Growing schools


Mass timber could help meet the needs of Washington’s public schools and the state’s increasing population, according to a report conducted by Mahlum Architects.

Mahlum recently released a study that found that K–12 schools made from mass timber and other wood products offered numerous benefits for students, communities, taxpayers and the environment. The report found that school buildings primarily constructed from innovative wood products could deliver ecologically friendly, affordable and exceptional learning spaces that foster learning, emotional wellbeing and physical health.

Mahlum analyzed two different construction types – mass timber and steel – and compared them in terms of design flexibility, carbon footprint, acoustics, sourcing, constructability, cost, structural framing and indoor environment quality. Among the benefits, the report concluded the mass timber construction offered following advantages:

  • Using mass timber and other wood products reduced carbon emissions by 80%
  • Mass timber could lead to faster design and better cost control
  • Engineered wood could be reused in future new school construction
  • Wood interiors created a warm, calming and aesthetically pleasing environment for learners
  • It made sense to build with wood since the material could be sustainably sourced within Washington state and help support local economies

In partnership with the Sequim School District, Mahlum architects created a prototype multi-story school to make the best use of increasingly limited land. The Mahlum analysis also found that their prototype design had a high degree of flexibility and scalability to meet specific needs of different school districts and sites. In addition, schools constructed of mass timber could be a cost competitive option to traditional steel frame construction.

The report concluded that the “use of local, natural, carbon sequestering materials can offer a broad benefit for climate health, as well as the health of building occupants and our communities. What’s more, taking a holistic view of construction and cost shows mass timber can compete economically with other standard building materials.”

Mass timber offers numerous advantages in construction. Some of the benefits of using mass timber include:

  • It provides structural strength and stability in earthquake, high winds and fire
  • It is made from a renewable, sustainable product
  • It allows buildings to be constructed faster with lower costs and less waste
  • It retains the sequestered carbon throughout its lifespan
  • It is less carbon intensive that concrete and steel to create
  • Wood products have been shown to promote occupant health and wellbeing
  • It can help promote good forest management
  • It is aesthetically pleasing


The Mahlum report was made possible in large part from USDA/US Forest Service Wood Innovations Grant. The grant aims to stimulate and expand wood products and wood energy markets. Mahlum also partnered with Colville-based mass timber producer Vaagen Timbers and others.

You can read a summary of the study here and the full report here.