Project tests CLT timber classrooms instead of trailers

SEATTLE, Wash. — Installation began Monday for Washington’s fourth mass timber modular classroom project. The four-classroom building at Greywolf Elementary in Sequim was erected in a single day. A pilot project, funded by the state Legislature and overseen by the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services, is pioneering the use of cross-laminated timber to build 20 classrooms at five schools across Washington.

The pilot project is creating a way to improve classroom conditions for students, while also supporting one of the Pacific Northwest’s most promising new industries. Washington State’s 2016 supplemental capital budget included $5.5 million in the state building construction account for the pilot project. The use of innovative contacting methods by the Department of Enterprise Services allowed the project to go from concept to complete in less than a year.

“We are very appreciative for the opportunity to manufacture these cross-laminated timber panels (CLT) for this pilot project”, said Valerie Johnson, D.R. Johnson Wood Innovations’ president.  “Our company was the first U.S. certified manufacturer of this product so it took a bit of a leap of faith to believe the market demand would grow. The Pacific NW is the best region in the country to lead this evolution of building with mass timber construction systems.  This project will be another important catalyst for similar projects that follow.”

The pilot project provides needed classroom space for K-3 students in Washington who would otherwise be served by temporary buildings—giving the state an opportunity to test and fine-tune multiple classroom designs. Additionally, it creates gives Washington designers, contractors and suppliers a chance to advance their skillset using this new building method.

“I’m so excited to see a school project like this showing off CLT. The team should be commended for their work to stimulate the market for this innovative wood product with its opportunities for manufacturing and rural jobs – all using locally produced wood,” says Hilary S. Franz, the state’s Commissioner of Public Lands. “The fact that the Sequim school project used lumber from the Olympic Peninsula, mere miles from the school site, is testament to this industry’s incredible potential.”

The cross-laminated timber panels were manufactured by Oregon’s D.R. Johnson Wood Innovations using lumber sourced from Interfor located in nearby Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula. Each panel was designed and cut to the architect’s specifications, easing the burden on the construction contractor during assembly.

“What we’re seeing in the Pacific Northwest is the creation of a closed loop; a ‘forest to frame’ ecosystem is taking shape,” said Joe Mayo, Mahlum Architects’ project architect. “The state’s investment in this pilot project is giving the Northwest an edge by allowing firms in our region to get up-to-speed quickly on CLT and demonstrate by example that building with mass timber is not only possible, but a key step forward in sustainable design.”

Unlike most other building methods, mass timber construction uses pre-fabricated CLT panels. This requires close collaboration among the contractor, design team, fabricators, and installers. All parties are equally important and affect how successfully the CLT will be installed. The design and planning completed during pre-construction pays off with a greatly reduced construction schedule.

“The ease of installation at the Sequim school project demonstrates that building with mass timber, regardless of project complexity, is still faster than traditional framing,” said John Gilson, Walsh Construction Co. project manager. “Installation that would take 4-5 days with conventional framing (or 2-3 weeks for a larger project) is easily achieved in half the time."

Key stats on the Greywolf Elementary School project:
•    Project team:
o    Project Manager and Contracts: Department of Enterprise Services
o    Architect: Mahlum Architects
o    General Contractor: Walsh Construction
o    Cross-laminated timber manufacturer: D.R. Johnson Wood Innovations
o    Lumber Supplier: Interfor
•    Funder:
o     The Washington State Legislature included $5.5 million in the state building construction account for the pilot project in the 2016 supplemental capital budget.  
•    Building description:
o    3,960 square feet
o    Four classrooms, two shared work rooms and two restrooms
•    Interesting design features:
o    Interior walls can be removed to promote co-teaching
o    All loadbearing walls in the buildings will be constructed from CLT and will be left exposed to view on the interior. As a result, students will be surrounded by natural wood, which provokes positive psychological responses similar to how trees elicit biophilic responses. Wood in classrooms has been shown to reduce stress and the heart rate of students, as reported by Planet Ark's 2015 study Wood - Housing, Health, Humanity.  
o    Modular design has the ability to be replicated on any site, allowing school districts to quickly respond to overcrowding and classroom demands.
About the Washington State pilot project:
The Department of Enterprise Services is overseeing a pilot project to build 20 kindergarten through third-grade classrooms using cross-laminated timber (CLT) in five school district sites in Washington.
The state's 2016 supplemental capital budget included $5.5 million in the state building construction account for the pilot project, which in addition to constructing the classrooms will measure how well using the engineered wood product creates efficiencies in the construction process, and achieves other environmental and economic benefits. Potential benefits include:
•    Reduced quantity of construction site waste due to prefabrication of panels.
•    Quicker construction time because services can be installed and finishes applied while panel installation continues.
•    Creation of local jobs, especially in rural communities.
•    Making it profitable to thin forests, thus reducing the danger of wildfires.
•    Reduced use of fossil fuels to manufacture using wood, compared to using structural concrete, masonry or steel.
Four modular classrooms are being built in each of the following school districts:
•    Western Washington
o    Seattle School District – Maple Elementary
o    Mount Vernon School District - Jefferson Elementary
o    Sequim School District Greywolf Elementary
•    Eastern Washington
o    Wapato School District – Adams Elementary
o    Toppenish School District – Valley View Elementary
For more information visit:…
To watch a time lapse of the Mt. Vernon project:

About Mahlum Architecture
Established in 1938, Mahlum iscommitted to creating healthy and enduring communities to support the lives of future generations. The firm is focused in three primary market sectors: education, healthcare, and student housing. In 2014, Mahlum was recognized with the Firm Award by the AIA Northwest and Pacific Region. Learn more: Follow us on Twitter:  @MahlumArch
About Walsh Construction
Walsh is dedicated to creating innovative solutions for our clients and communities. Since 1961, the company has served building partners throughout the Pacific Northwest, with an emphasis on academic, housing, and medical/healthcare facilities. Walsh has been recognized in 2014 with Associated General Contractors’ Safety Excellence Award; and by ENR’s list of Top Green Contractors in the US. Learn more:, or
D.R. Johnson Wood Innovations began manufacturing wood products in Riddle, Oregon in 1951. Its Cross-Laminated Timber  manufacturing business, D.R. Johnson Wood Innovations, is the first company in the U.S. to receive APA/ANSI certification to manufacture structural CLT panels.  It has several projects under development, making it the only certified U.S. manufacturer of CLT panels currently serving the domestic market.  For more information, please visit


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About the author
Bill Esler | ConfSenior Editor

Bill wrote for, FDMC and Closets & Organized Storage magazines. 

Bill's background includes more than 10 years in print manufacturing management, followed by more than 30 years in business reporting on industrial manufacturing in the forest products industries, including printing and packaging at American Printer (Features Editor) and Graphic Arts Monthly (Editor in Chief) magazines; and in secondary wood manufacturing for

Bill was deeply involved with the launches of the Woodworking Network Leadership Forum, and the 40 Under 40 Awards programs. He currently reports on technology and business trends and develops conference programs.

In addition to his work as a journalist, Bill supports efforts to expand and improve educational opportunities in the manufacturing sectors, including 10 years on the Print & Graphics Scholarship Foundation; six years with the U.S. WoodLinks; and currently on the Woodwork Career Alliance Education Committee. He is also supports the Greater West Town Training Partnership Woodworking Program, which has trained more than 950 adults for industrial wood manufacturing careers. 

Bill volunteers for Foinse Research Station, a biological field station staddling the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland, one of more than 200 members of the Organization of Biological Field Stations.