CLT classrooms in Sequim are sign of things to come

2017-05-06 Ashley Bach

One of the Washington Legislature's finest moves last year was to allocate $5.5 million for the construction of new classrooms around the state using cross-laminated timber. The 20 classrooms for kindergarten though third grade will be built in the Sequim, Seattle, Mount Vernon, Wapato and Toppenish public school districts. 

Installation of the CLT began recently on one of those pilot projects - in Sequim. What's critical about the Sequim project is the wood used to make the CLT was harvested locally, on the Olympic Peninsula, according to Forterra.

“The kids are excited for the new classrooms, and we know they’ll feel more settled in a permanent space made from wood from their virtual back yard.” said Sequim school district Superintendent Gary Neal.

The CLT panels used at Greywolf Elementary were created from locally-sourced timber from the Olympic Peninsula. From the forests of the peninsula to classrooms in Sequim, these classrooms are an example of growing interest nationally in the “Forest to Frame” model—where sustainably-harvested local timber meets demand for local growth, and can spur local economies.

“Today we watch as new classrooms are built for our young people out of a material that has the opportunity to secure a better future for them, and for their community,” said Congressman Derek Kilmer. “Folks in our region don’t want our top export to be young people. The Olympic Peninsula is showing the world that timber towns can be relevant and innovative in the 21st century.”

“This is a win-win-win for the kids, our economy, and the environment,” said State Representative Steve Tharinger. “These CLT modular classrooms demonstrate how we can meet schools’ growing demand for classrooms by providing better, more permanent structures that are also made from sustainable, local, innovative wood products.”

“Seeing our lumber incorporated in this new and exciting material is a good feeling. New market opportunities mean more job security for our families and our community,” said Paul Bialkowsky, Peninsula Timber Manager for Interfor.

“With visionary leadership, we can realize the potential of CLT for our communities and our environment here in Washington. Thankfully, we have an incredible coalition from across the state, from urban and rural communities to the local delegation working to do just this. These pilot projects are an important step to creating a marketplace,” said Leda Chahim, Government Affairs Director at Forterra.

The CLT pilot projects are not just an important training ground -- they are a positive harbinger for the timber industry and rural communities, according to Lens.

“What they (pilot projects) do allow is for people to test it out. It’s a huge challenge if your contractor hasn’t used it before,” Chahim (of Forterra) said.

She added that “The other piece of this is…the permit and the regulatory process,” because it’s a problem “if building officials don’t have experience with the product, either.”

Another critical step is the development of CLT production facilities in the state. The nearest CLT mills to Washington are in Oregon and British Columbia, but Colville-based lumber company Vaagens Brothers has announced plans to open their own facility next year. The family-owned company is part of the Northwest Forest Collaborative, whose members include the Nature Conservancy.

CLT’s potential economic benefits have also caught the interest of state officials. In a proposed strategic plan for the forest sector, Brian Hatfield, Governor Jay Inslee’s timber products advisor, calls for the promotion and manufacturing of CLT in the state..

Hatfield writes:

“Imagine if we were able to link the growth in our urban areas…with our rural areas through initiatives as simple as promoting the use of products milled in our forest communities like cross laminated timber products. We will ensure the longevity of one of Washington’s original industries and protect our quality of life because milled building materials produce a smaller carbon footprint and add to our economic vitality.”