When the management of Portland International Airport (PDX) in Oregon decided to change the beloved carpet after 30 years of service, the citizens of Portland reacted with emotion and fear. They loved their carpet. In fact, there was a local custom to take a selfie of their feet on that colorful carpet. The carpet was worn and tired, but the Portlanders didn’t care. Don’t change our carpet!

The Project Begins

The train was on the tracks and the new carpet was selected and ordered. The project promised it would be one of the most challenging replacement efforts ever. The old broadloom had to be removed, and based on a strong environmental commitment, airport management was determined to maximize the renewal or reuse of the old, iconic material. In addition, the replacement product was specified with a custom J+J Flooring broadloom instead of modular carpet tiles, which increased the complexity of the installation. Plus, the venue was a busy airport with thousands of people traveling through its concourses at all hours, every day. The team managing this project had their work cut out for them.

Fortunately, Rubenstein’s Contract Carpets, a Starnet member, had installed the original carpet back in the ‘80s and they were selected for the replacement project in 2015. The individual charged with leading the project, Terry Green, general manager of Rubenstein’s Oregon division, led the installation project almost 30 years earlier and he knew the challenges ahead. The carpet manufacturer, J+J Flooring Group, provided extra technical installation support to ensure quality and consistency of the material. In addition, Terry was working with an excellent architecture firm, Hennebery Eddy Architects, and a strong general contractor, Emerick Construction, as well as the fully engaged airport teams in the area of facility management and environmental initiatives.

“This project was immensely challenging,” Green said. “The entire team understood the complexity, but you never know what you will face until the work is underway.”

The total area required was 80,000 yards, or the equivalent of 14 acres net area, and approximately 10 miles of border area. The demolition and installation started every evening a 9 p.m. and wrapped up around 4 a.m. Because of the large space involved and the huge amount of material being handled, 20 people (two crews of 10) worked each night. The new carpet was delivered in sections that had to be inspected and sized for the space involved.

For the people of Portland, their excitement peaked as they saw the work unfolding. The selfies continued at an increasing pace, and the carpet design showed up on Adidas signature shoes. Oregon’s Rogue Ales & Spirits released a special edition India Pale Ale featuring the carpet design on the label. In the airport gift shop, items including T-shirts, socks, coasters, hats and cosmetic bags featured the designs of both the old and the new carpet patterns. Airport officials estimated that more than $2 million in PDX-themed items inspired by the carpet design have been sold and are still selling.

The project was the subject of articles in the local media, and a roll of the old carpet was featured as the grand marshal of the 2015 Portland General Electric/SOLVE Starlight Parade. Wearing an airplane seat belt and a PDX baseball cap, the carpet rode in the grand marshal’s car as a tribute to the millions of travelers who have walked on the flooring, said officials from the Portland Rose Festival and the Port of Portland.

Outstanding Results

Despite all the media hype, the project teams remained focused on delivering quality work and meeting the project timetable. Their priorities were twofold: create a beautiful and durable floor and responsibly recycle or renew the old carpet to the maximum extent. Both priorities were achieved in spades.

The direct glue down carpet installation required an extraordinary amount of material manipulation into a variety of dimensions and spaces. For each area, the pattern match had to be perfect, which was a particular challenge since the pattern had a vertical, horizontal and diagonal design that allowed for limited tolerance. Each night, the installation crews from Rubenstein’s had to pull and stretch the material to align with the earlier work.

The environmental story at the Portland Airport far exceeded the use of new carpet with recycled content, sustainability and earning LEED points. This project was all about the direct reuse of 100% of the used carpet without additional processing and direct recycling into carpet pad. Rubenstein’s re-purposed and upcycled many of the project’s flooring products into wall art, holiday ornaments, carpet for a community center, flooring for a renovated 100-year-old building and flooring for a baseball practice hitting facility. Remnants greater than two feet were given to a local vendor to make entry mats and area rugs for resale.

Dr. Bob Peoples, executive director of Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), a national not-for-profit organization whose mission is to divert carpet from landfills to reuse or recycle into consumer products, commented: “I’ve never seen the level of creativity in diverting not only carpet but other materials from landfills. This is a remarkable story and a true lesson to everyone on how to reduce waste and reuse recycled materials.”

In total, Rubenstein’s was able to upcycle and repurpose:

  • 10,080 square yards (25.2 tons or 2.08 acres) of the iconic PDX carpet
  • 10,930 square yards (38.12 tons or 2.26 acres) of “other carpet from projects”
  • An additional 3.5 tons or jobsite materials were repurposed including cardboard, scrap metal, plastic film and wood pallets.

The balance of the used PDX carpet was recycled into carpet pads totaling 45,000 square yards (134.48 tons or 8.3 acres).

An Award-Winning Project

The Portland Airport carpet replacement project won multiple awards for design and environmental achievement. The awards include:

  • 2016 Starnet Design Awards—Gold Environmental Achievement
  • 2016 Starnet Design Awards—Silver People’s Choice
  • 2016 Daily Journal of Commerce—Oregon Project of the Year—Public Works Division, 3rd Place
  • 2016 Association of Oregon Recyclers—Recycling Project of the Year

“The size, scope and media coverage of the project was extraordinary and something the carpet industry has never seen before,” said Randy Rubenstein, owner of Rubenstein’s. “I have to give credit to all parties involved in the 10-month project for the dedication to work closely as a team.”

The carpet replacement of the Portland International Airport is complete, and the new pattern is gaining popularity with the people of Portland. The new carpet provides a comfortable and quiet travel experience for the many people passing through the airport every day and has become part of daily life.

However, for the large and diverse team who worked tirelessly on this project and who derive great satisfaction for the outstanding results, this project represents a lifetime achievement.

“We are not eager to repeat this work anytime soon, however, I am proud of the job we did,” Green said.