Swinerton In the News

Portland: August 13, 2018

Cross-laminated timber remains hot with developers despite hiccups

Developers and designers are starting to embrace cross-laminated timber, which is showing up in new buildings throughout the Portland area.

First Tech Federal Credit Union began moving into its new corporate office in Hillsboro last month. At five stories and 156,000 square feet, it's the nation's largest structure built with the new technology. But perhaps not for long.

Across the river, the Vancouver School District plans to incorporate the massive wood panels into its Marshall Elementary and McLoughlin Middle School rebuilds. At a combined 175,000 square feet, the schools would surpass First Tech as the largest CLT installation in the country.

"It's a nice, natural, very Northwest look," said Todd Horenstein, district assistant superintendent for capital planning. Plus, it was slightly less expensive than steel, he said.

Cross-laminated timber — multiple layers of dimensional lumber that's been glued, heated and pressed into large panels — could get its highest profile use yet if Adidas North America moves ahead with plans to incorporate it into its North Portland headquarters expansion. Industry sources say the company has already signaled plans to use the laminated panels in at least one of its two new office buildings. The company declined to comment.

With a lot of encouragement and funding from state and local officials, Oregon has become a leader in the burgeoning industry. Though cross-laminated timber was developed in Europe two decades ago, it is just beginning to crack the U.S. market.

Enthusiasts contend the fabricated wood can match the strength of steel and concrete. It is strong enough to provide buildings structural support, yet attractive enough to serve as finished walls.

They also say the panels come with big environmental advantages, because the wood stores carbon while steel and concrete emit greenhouse gases.

But the infant Oregon market seemingly took a hit this spring and summer.

Construction of Peavy Hall at Oregon State University was halted in March after a panel collapsed. Engineers have since determined that least 85 of the panels will need to be replaced, putting the Corvallis building a year behind schedule and far over budget. In Portland last month, developers put their 12-story Framework building on hiatus due to high construction costs. It would have been the tallest CLT building in the country.

But others are charging ahead.

Beam Development broke ground in June on a six-story, 110,000-square foot office building at Southeast Stark Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

The Nature Conservancy plans to include the panels in a small addition to its Portland headquarters.

Clackamas County is considering using the technology in its new courthouse.

Beam's new building will feature panels manufactured by DR Johnson, the same Douglas County company that provided the faulty panels to OSU. DR Johnson built its CLT fabrication plant in the Douglas County town of Riddle in 2015. It's one of only two such factories in the country.

Beam principal Jonathan Malsin said he's studied the Peavy Hall project and is convinced that DR Johnson has remedied the production glitch. Much like a grocer who highlights locally sourced produce, Malsin said that he will position "District Office" as the building featuring Oregon wood.

"It's pretty exciting to be able to source a product that is fabricated here," he said. "It's driving a unique and virtuous connection between the urban and rural worlds in Oregon."

Timm Locke, forest products director for the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, said about two-dozen buildings featuring cross-laminated beams are under construction, in the planning stage or have been recently completed. "The marketplace loves the stuff," he said. "They love the look, they love that they can potentially save money and they love the environmental story. It checks a lot of boxes."

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