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San Francisco: A look inside airport's new eco-friendly Terminal 2

Special to the Los Angeles Times

Imagine an airline terminal so filled with natural light that it feels good to be there. That’s what Terminal 2, after a $383-million upgrade, felt like during a press preview I joined this week at San Francisco International Airport.

The terminal, billed as environmentally friendly, includes numerous skylights; artwork; a spacious "recompose" area past security checkpoints, where you can reassemble your belongings; “hydration stations” for refilling reusable bottles with tap water; a kids’ play area; and of course recycling stations.

PHOTOS: The newly renovated Terminal 2 at San Francisco International Airport

After a free public open house Saturday,  the terminal will open for flights April 14 with 14 gates and two tenants: Virgin America and American Airlines, an original tenant when Terminal 2 opened in 1954. In typical splashy fashion, Virgin America heralded its arrival this week by flying in Virgin Galactic's new spaceship, attached to its mother ship.

The 640,000-square-foot facility, renovated by Gensler and Turner Construction, has applied for LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

"LEED certification requires an environmentally conscious building design with the least amount of impact on the environment," project manager Ray Quesada said.

The renovation, he said, used about 80% to 90% of the building’s existing structure while adding a lot of windows. The old boarding area had a narrow slit window; the new terminal sports floor-to-ceiling glass in public spaces.

Other sustainable elements, Quesada said, include double-paned glass and the use of glass fused with ceramic coating, which reduces glare and heat gain. The building offers compost bins in dining areas with signs to help sort compostable plates, utensils and containers from other waste.

Changes were also made for passenger comfort. They include:

* Wider TSA lanes and a separate security area for pilots, flight attendants and concessionaires so that they won’t cut in front of you.

* Kids' play areas with interactive sculptures, including one that makes wire butterflies fly.

* Sleek bathrooms with powerful hand dryers that promise to dry your hands in less than 12 seconds.

* Numerous power outlets for charging portable devices.

* A comfy American Airlines Admirals Club, said to be its first to have a fireplace (ventless). It also has a miniature "Golden Gate Park" with replica Monterrey pine trees, two private shower rooms, a laptop "plug and play" counter, three computer work stations and a TV lounge. Nancy Knipp, president of the Admirals Club, said the earth-tone design with an elegant hotel lounge vibe was inspired by visiting luxury hotels in San Francisco.

The free Community Open House at the terminal will run from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. As of Thursday, the timed entrance tickets were all taken through 4 p.m.

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