Wood offers cost-effective, high-performance option for school construction

An estimated $6.1 billion was spent on new school construction in 2015, a figure expected to increase as U.S. schools look to accommodate an estimated 2.8 million more students by 2024. To meet this demand, education administrators need to select building material options that meet budget parameters and ensure the well-being of the structure’s occupants. Wood building solutions are an ideal option as they can meet rigorous safety requirements, be erected quickly, and have a lower carbon footprint compared to traditional building materials.

In fact, wooden building solutions typically cost less – an average elementary or middle school can achieve cost savings of nearly 22 percent. Wood structures are a prevalent option on the West Coast, where seismic and wind-resistant design challenges are an area of concern.

“We have seen a very strong trend toward the use of wood in student housing,” says Beth Brett, project manager for Mahlum. “With the rising cost of construction, universities are looking to the use of wood in student housing to reduce costs and help manage their project budgets.”

“From an environmental standpoint, a significant benefit of using mass timber as a primary structure—instead of steel or concrete with their relatively higher processing emissions— is its capacity to sequester carbon over the building’s lifetime,” says Alan Organschi, principal of Gray Organschi Architecture and designer of Common Ground High School in New Haven, Connecticut. “We estimate the project offsets 447 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of the annual emissions of 95 vehicles.”


Image: Duke School, Durham, North Carolina