Paul Jones has worked for Johnston County Regional Airport in Smithfield, N.C., for 15 years.

He was ready to see some improvements made to the small airport, which handles very small regional flights and private jets.

That occurred last July when a new state-of-the-art facility opened. Jones marvels at the enhancements he and his fellow coworkers see on a daily basis.

“We went from a 1973 Pinto to a 2014 Cadillac,” he states. “The old lavatories we had were just fixed, wall-mounted units with a hot and cold faucet. It was straightforward — something a barracks would have on a Marine base.”

Michael Schulman, a senior plumbing and medical gas designer with Raleigh, N.C.-based PDC Engineers, came onto the project later in the design process and worked on the commercial construction document phase. The plumbing design at the Johnston County Airport, he says, is not overly intricate.

“The system is not entirely complicated in terms of project types,” he states. “There are kitchenettes and a couple toilet rooms — all the normal fixtures you’d find in a commercial building.”

Although, that does not mean there were not trials along the way.

“The challenge really started when the owners decided there was not enough flash in the design of the building,” Schulman recalls. “They requested to the architect to bring on an interior designer. Although it is a welcome challenge, you now have the interface between the engineer, who is used to picking out fixtures for their reasons, now working with an interior designer who has a completely different set of reasons for selecting certain fixtures.”

Fortunately, Schulman notes, the vision was clear from the architect and interior designer. “The facility’s overall aesthetic captures the wonder and magic of flight,” he says.

Architecturally, that includes wall surfaces with a delicate wavy motif giving off a sense of wind and air flow, and a customer service desk in the shape of an airplane wing. There are two men’s and women’s restrooms at the airport, as well as a private room for the pilots with working shower facilities. One particular item that Schulman and his team brought to the table for the restrooms was the selection of Bradley’s Verge L-Series Lavatory System.

“The owner and board of directors had a clear vision for the design of this facility to be top-notch in every facet,” Johnston County Airport Director Ray Blackmon says. “We live and work here every day. The Verge is a great restroom fixture that’s reliable and easy to maintain while having a sleek and stylish look.”

The Verge L-Series  (with an elongated basin shape that funnels water to the drain and minimizes standing water)  at the airport has two automated faucets mounted in one lavatory piece in each of the public restrooms and “offers all the characteristics required for the application,” Schulman says. “The lavatory has a certain, appropriate shape and form. It has a level of elegance that you do not normally find in an airport terminal toilet room.”

That elegance was critical to Johnston County Regional Airport because the passengers that come through the building – which Jones estimates can range from 25 to 40 people per day – are people with a lot of cash to their names. A celebrity might land at the airport and start the 90-minute drive to Wilmington to shoot some scenes for a movie or TV series that has set up shop on the picturesque shoreline.

“The kind of clientele going through the airport was an issue,” Schulman says. “Because of where it is located so close to the North Carolina coast, the airport often is chosen by people with a little bit more money and people with their own planes. There is a specific component of people traveling to Wilmington that come for the film industry. They built this industry down there and they definitely are using it.”

Schulman specified Kohler electronic faucets with 0.5-gpm flow rates in the restrooms. “The automated faucets have the right timing,” Jones says. “Sometimes you go to a rest area and different places and you will use an automated faucet that does not give you enough water to totally cleanse your hands and get the soap off. Our faucets have the right proportions and timing. They work great.”

In a pinch

At the old airport building, one of Jones’ charges was to keep the plumbing running smoothly on a daily basis. As the staff has taken residence at the new facility, the advancements have made that line on his job description effectively moot.

“The stuff here is so new that I will give it a whirl first,” he says. “But, if the problem is something that I cannot fix then I will call a professional.”

Schulman says he and his PDC Engineers team take pride in the amount of time they spend selecting products. They work in close proximity with manufacturers reps to stay current in order to specify the proper products for the application.

“The fixtures are extremely durable,” he says. “They all have brass components and are sensor-operated. The faucets can easily be recharged with new batteries. You do not need any specialized knowledge. The facility’s personnel are not master plumbers. A lot of it is very easy and interchangeable. Nothing was specified that would not have the support of the company that manufactured the products.”

The bathrooms were specified with TOTO water closet units. Each unit features 1.28 gpf with siphon jet operation and is mounted with Sloan Valve Regal XL flushometers.

In the men’s room, Schulman stuck with TOTO for the urinals and specified a standard HET unit with 0.5 gpf. The urinals also feature Sloan Valve Regal XL flushometers. An A. O. Smith 40-gal. electric water heater covers the entire building’s usage needs and meets all the requirements of ASHRAE 90.1 efficiency standards.

Other specified products include a Bell & Gossett 100 Series recirculating pump; Jay R. Smith floor and roof drains ranging from 4” to 8” in diameter; a Chicago Faucet hose bibb with polished chrome and removable tee handle; and Watts Water freeze-proof brass hose bibbs.

Schulman notes he always makes it a top priority to design efficient systems within the constructs of the project.

“As engineers, we are constantly focused on efficiencies,” he says. “That is our nature. The airport’s fixtures meet the state low-flow requirements. The lighting is occupancy-sensored. As much as possible, the shape of building allows for daylight harvesting. The minimums are not what we designed to. We designed the building to be efficient beyond that.”

Schulman credits the coordination between all parties involved in the airport project as the main reason a top-notch facility was completed. “It was a good team effort,” he says.

Schulman says people can overlook the amount of effort put in to make the airport more than “a building with four toilets and a kitchenette.” He praises the owners of the building in leading the charge to make a space that went above and beyond the minimum requirements needed for completion.

“The design of the building and the finished product is really an example of what you can accomplish with a little more effort than a normal get-it-done project,” he says. “These spaces can be raised to a position where we are elevating the experience of the traveler.”

All the technical and architectural talk is important and nice, but what matters most is Johnston County Regional Airport employees such as Jones are able to enjoy their workday surroundings.

“We went from no break room to the whole building is a break room,” Jones says. “It really is something to see.”