Airport Crews Pitch In to Make Sensory Space Possible From plumbing to special lighting and soundproofing, here’s how PIT employees made Presley’s Place so special

By Natalie Fiorilli

As a member of the in-house team that worked to build the sensory space at Pittsburgh International Airport, Chris Unger knew from experience the project would make a difference.

“I know this was going to be helpful,” he said. “[People] have to decompress, and that’s what this room is for.”

An electrician and father of an 18-year-old son with autism, Unger knows firsthand the stress of traveling with kids – and adults – with sensory-processing issues.

“I felt honored to be asked to work on the room. It’s about helping the kids,” Unger said, adding that he often went home and talked about the project with his wife, son and daughter, who now works with children with autism.
Airport employees Chris Unger (left) and Ralph Williams review construction plans for the sensory room at Pittsburgh International Airport. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

The area is named “Presley’s Place” after the 4-year-old autistic son of Jason Rudge, an airport employee who suggested the idea to CEO Christina Cassotis.

PIT’s sensory-friendly room features private and soundproof spaces with adjustable lighting, various calming activities and comfortable seating, a sensory-friendly restroom and a realistic airplane cabin experience area.

Following the announcement of the room last spring, airport officials immediately began seeking input to better understand the needs of the community. PIT invited the public, advocacy groups and autism experts to provide ideas for design concepts and features.

Construction of the roughly 1,500-square-foot space took about six months.

Logan Williams (right) discusses plans for the sensory room during the construction process. Williams led the project as PIT’s organizational development manager. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

Ed Thompson, an airport plumber, helped install fire protection for the space and worked on the sensory-friendly bathroom, which includes an adult changing table and a wheelchair accessible sink.

“It was a lot of work,” Thompson said. “The bathroom alone was a process, with installing the motorized sink. It was a really unique and rewarding project to be a part of."
“We had a great group of people to work with,” he said. “It was a pretty fast-track job, so everyone pitched in. There’s a lot of talent here, and it shows in this room.”

Carpenter Ralph Williams, who led the project as foreman, said the job involved several different crews, from carpenters and electricians to plumbers, painters and stationary engineers. About 40 employees worked on the project.

Airport carpenter Ralph Williams led the construction project as foreman. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

The design plan was very specific, he said, requiring special materials for soundproofing and a variety of adjustable lighting settings, among other details.

“I’m proud of our tradespeople – we have a really talented group and everyone brought something different to the project to get it done.”

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