Wood Increasingly Used In School Construction

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Jul. 23, 2012 12:00 am  

Builders of El Dorado High School used wood throughout the building. According to Woodworks.org, wood lowers a building's cabon footprint through "avoided" greenhouse gas emissions.

A change four years ago in state guidelines has led to an increasing use of wood in school construction. It's a change that proponents of wood construction say recognizes improvements in the strength and durability of wood products, their cost effectiveness and their environmental benefits.

One of the highest profile examples of wood construction in an education facility is the $43.2 million 322,500-SF El Dorado High School, which opened just a year ago.

The way to the new El Dorado High and, now, other schools was paved in 2008 when the state revised the manual that governs construction of education facilities. The new rules permit the use of not just standard dimension lumber (2 by 4s, for example), but laminated beams, I-joists and structural panels.

Aubra Anthony, president and CEO of Anthony Forest Products of El Dorado, was among those leading the fight to persuade state officials, architects and others of the advantages of wood in nonresidential construction.

Even during the housing boom, Anthony said, "we were losing market share. And that was a shock." Structural component competitors included steel and concrete.

Although the construction bust hit wood product manufacturers particularly hard, it also made potential clients particularly cost-conscious. In addition, wood generally is considered more environmentally friendly than the alternatives. For one thing, it's a renewable resource. Want some wood? Plant a tree.

And if the wood is sourced locally, as was much of the wood in the El Dorado High School, its value as a sustainable product rises even higher because energy expended in transportation is less.

Blakely C. Dunn, principal of CADM Architecture Inc. of El Dorado, the project's architect, said the sustainability factor of wood played a role in the decision to use it extensively throughout the school. "Any architect worth his salt is going to want to use the most sustainable building products that they can if it's feasible to do so," he said.

"Our firm has historically used a lot of wood construction materials - laminated beams, trusses, plywood, wood trim - but we've never really used it very extensively on school projects, especially ones anywhere near this size," Dunn said.

Dunn acknowledged, however, that saving money was foremost among considerations. "Cost is definitely the driver," he said. "This is taxpayer funded, and we wanted to be prudent with those funds." The firm saw an opportunity "to use a sustainable building product but at the same time achieve a substantial cost savings to the owner, so it was sort of a win-win."

By using wood framing, the design team for the high school estimated a $2.7 million savings in the project's cost.

Engineering Consultants Inc. of Little Rock served as structural engineers on the project, and Baldwin & Shell Construction Co. provided construction management.



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