CLT Schools in North America – It’s Happening

For many years, schools in Europe have been designed and built using heavy timber – Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT), glulam columns and beams as reflected in the photographs above. With the introduction of three new heavy timber schools in North America, we’re witnessing the emergence of a similar trend in Canada and the United States. Why?

Schools with higher wood and natural material content are healthier. We know this as fact through numerous studies conducted on the built environment. Such studies reflect better indoor air quality, feelings of warmth, comfort, relaxation and well-being, increases in social interaction, improved emotional states and levels of self-expression, reduced blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels, more creative thinking, focus and concentration.

Research also indicates wood is a healthier alternative for the environment than concrete and steel, as well as being a renewable, sustainable material, acting as a long term store of carbon helping to fight climate change.

Courtesy of Perkins+Will


The University of British Columbia – Earth Sciences Building (UBC ESB) raised the bar for the use of wood in large scale, high performance projects. It was the first building in Canada to specify solid timber panel systems to such a large extent.

From a Design perspective, wood was chosen as the only major building material that is both a natural and renewable resource, along with many economic and aesthetic benefits. Other benefits cited include a reduced carbon footprint, reduced carbon emissions, sustainability, sustainable development, lowest embodied energy and climate-friendly construction 1.

Other notable pioneering heavy timber projects in Canadian schools include the UBC BioEnergy Research and Demonstration Facility, Confederation College REACH Building, Port Alberni Secondary School, and the Laurentian School of Architecture, one of those featured in our first post.

Courtesy of Jason Surkan


Less known or publicized is Douglas Cardinal Architect’s Long Point First Nation School in Winneway, Western Quebec. The structure is more like the modern, heavy timber schools in Europe which use CLT as entire structure (for floors, roof structure and exterior walls), hence furthering the trend of the use of CLT similarly in North America.

Important to the community of Winneway is the philosophy of total balance and harmony with nature. Wood was chosen as a natural, harmonizing element, with inherent thermal insulating properties and resistance to mould, fitting well with indigenous philosophy and culture.

Courtesy of MSES Architects


The Franklin Elementary School is the first school in the U.S. to use Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and as its entire structure.

The school district set out to build quickly and on budget a school that would last and they needed the predictability of a fixed-cost project. They also had a short construction window.

One of the greatest advantages CLT brought to the project was speed of installation. Chuck Pickens, Project Superintendent for City Construction said “On our best day, we set 33 panels with four guys and a crane operator. That’s roughly 10,000 sq. ft. of building surface put up in just one day. It would have taken 29 masons to cover that same area in a day with Concrete Masonry Units (CMU), so the labour savings with CLT is huge. When I compare speed of construction against CMU and ICF, the CLT is definitely fastest. And, as we get more familiar with the CLT, it will go even quicker.”

Pam Wean, Senior Project Architect and Project Manager, MSES Architects said “With a school, you can’t slide opening day, so speed of construction was a huge benefit. There’s no way they could have worked through the winter we had last year with another material.  They would have had to shut the site down.”

In the end, when crews placed the final CLT wall panel, it was just 1/16th-inch out of true, perhaps because the sill itself was out of square instead of the panels.  Out of more than 700 panels, crews only had to modify four panels on site, mostly due to service stub-ups being installed slightly out of plan in the concrete slabs 2.

Courtesy of Leers Weinzapfel Associates Architects


The 87,500 sq. ft. building is a large-scale learning laboratory offering students hands-on experience with sustainable architecture, designed with glulam columns and beams, CLT slabs and core walls.

Peggi Clouston – Associate Professor at UMass Amherst said “We need to integrate wood more into these large scale structures. We have the technology to be able to do it and we have all the reasons in the world sustainably to do it.”

Benefits cited for using wood include: it’s non-toxic, biodegradable, safe in fires, sourced from sustainably managed forests, it helps to create green jobs and spur economic development, it’s durable, long-lasting yet light weight and a great step towards sustainability and environmental innovation for the University.

According to Robert Malczyk of Vancouver-based Equilibrium Consulting, Structural Engineers for the UMass project, “This is the future of construction”.




  1. Innovation with Wood – A Case Study Showcasing Four Demonstration Projects
  2. Franklin Elementary School – West Virginia