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Working Forests Action Network

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It’s a well-established fact: Washingtonians seek the sweet spot where our values for environmental and fiscal responsibility are equally upheld. It’s like a golf shot, or catching a loved one in a perfect smile.

Based on what some experts are thinking, one of those golden intersections may exist in a place we could use innovative forward-thinking solutions: our schools, specifically how we construct them.

By leaning more on modern wood building materials (mass timber products) than concrete and steel for new school construction, there’s reason to believe we can make our conscience and our pocketbook happy at the same time. From the Woodworking Network website:

Optimal for educational and institutional building construction, wood building solutions typically cost less than alternatives – the average elementary and middle schools could realize cost savings of nearly 22 percent – and wood construction is fast, particularly with prefabrication and panelized products like cross-laminated timber and mass timber technologies. 

The benefits don’t end with simplified construction and the potential to reduce cost. Safety – earthquake resilience, in particular – are essential factors in buildings where children congregate:

Wood structures meet rigorous safety and environmental performance requirements required for educational facilities and classrooms. For example, wood-frame schools are a prevalent option on the West Coast, where seismic and wind-resistant design challenges are an area of concern.
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To top it off, schools built using sustainably harvested, renewable lumber would move us in a positive direction for energy reduction.
"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 tons of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of the annual emissions of 95 vehicles."

The environmental benefits of wood construction are not only in the avoiding energy-intensive materials such as concrete and steel, but in the process of carbon sequestration – taking advantage of wood’s natural role as an absorber of carbon from the atmosphere after which the carbon is stored in solid lumber.

Because Washington’s working forests are also among the world’s healthiest and managed sustainably – Washington’s working forests replant 3 trees for each one harvested – there are so many tantalizing reasons to investigate how new school construction could be done with modern engineered mass timber made from wood harvested in the Northwest.

-Your Friends in Washington’s Working Forests

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