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New high rise high school probably won't be a showcase for mass timber. Code and cost are too much.

PHOTO: SARAH HARRINGTON - Tick tock: Lincoln High School has just a few years to go before demolition. The new six story school, set to open in 2023, will probably not make use of structural mass timber due to strict code for tall educational buildings.

Wouldn't it be nice, designers have said, that when Lincoln High School is replaced with a shiny, tall building in 2022, that it be made of mass timber?

The darling construction material of architects right now, mass timber (glulam and dowel laminated beams and cross laminated timber panels) has been hailed as eco-friendly, aesthetically pleasing and good for the Oregon lumber industry.

However, the lead architects on the project have said not so fast.

Under the May 2017 bond, Lincoln will be a complete rebuild. Construction begins in the summer of 2020. First the new school will be built, at least six stories high, on the site of the current athletic track. Once students move in, as early as spring 2022, the old school will be demolished and replaced with a new athletic field, which should be ready in 2023.

Miguel Hidalgo, Project Architect at BORA Architects who are tasked with the design, told he the Tribune he has been in the last few years to every mass timber conference around. And they keep getting bigger. But it's not going to work at Lincoln.

COURTESY: BORA ARCHITECTS - An early plan by BORA Architects showing the new taller Lincoln High School.

Wood for the trees

"We did consider its use early on," he said "However, it's a high-rise and a high school, and the building code takes a pretty conservative approach to educational buildings when it comes to wood."

Using Cross Laminated Timber in a high rise is still tricky. "With the code still being worked out, it wasn't the best choice at this point."

The Lincoln master planning process wrapped up last year. Now BORA is in the concept design phase. The overall design form is established, now it's all about program verification, that is talking to user groups — teachers, students, administrators, security officers and neighbors — about what should go in each space.

There are five staff at BORA working on the Lincoln High School project. The architect's dealings with both Lincoln High School and the Portland Public Schools District are balanced right now. PPS has its own project manager.

"From a user's point of view, it's Lincoln. For how the school operates that's mostly the central office," said Hidalgo.

COURTESY: PPS  - An example of how a modern high school could look, taken from the Design Advisory Group's concept presentation in March 2018.

Gathering signature spaces

As BORA works on the building the designers have been considering places where mass timber could be used, not as part of the primary structure but in "signature spaces" such as the theater or in the gym roof. However, theaters and gyms are noisy, the beams would have to be clad or covered up for sound insulation, and the feel-good effect would be lost.

When will wooden schools be ready for prime time? "Maybe in 10 years when the codes are in place, when the officials have seen a lot of it and the testing has been going on…" Currently universities and federal agencies are doing burn tests and table shake test son mass timber. "That provides the data to make everyone feel comfortable. Right now, this project (in wood) is falling in a gap between viability and acceptance."

Even though wood is a "good story" right now, that is trumped by in his words, "trying to be a good steward of the client's money."

That could get difficult soon as the client, Portland Public Schools, just revealed it is already $89 million over budget for four schools.

The next phases are Schematic Design, Design Development and Construction Documents. The latter should be ready by August 2019.

COURTESY: PPS  - An example of how a modern high school could look, taken from the Design Advisory Group's concept presentation in March 2018.

Tall

As for building six stories high, the building code does not allow that without a major exception.

Hidalgo says Lincoln will most likely be built of a combination of concrete and steel.

Framework is a tall (12 story) office building coming soon to the Pearl District, but as it's zoned for business use, so it can go high.

"With business use you are allowed to go taller with different types of material that are more combustible. They will be occupied by adults, who understand how you get out of a building quickly, as opposed to trying to get kids tout of a building quickly."

One of the larger goals of the high school it to make sure there are "healthy occupants," which means making the stairs large, obvious and attractive. "We want great stairs, appealing stairs, we want the students moving up and down because they spend all their time sitting. We want to make the stairs as desirable as possible."

Of course, there will be elevators — code requires them for accessibility.

It will be the tallest K-12 building in Oregon when complete. Hidalgo has not toured a six-story school but his BORA colleague, project architect Becca Cavell, has visited an IBM building in Chicago repurposed as a school, and a 12-story school in New York City.

Best coast

There are more tall schools on the east coast because of population density, but none yet are made of mass timber.

Students will have to travel for all sports for four years of construction. The programing is not set. For instance, some plans currently show room for tennis courts, others do not.

Where and when the students move to is still up in the air – that doesn't get decided until a contractor is chosen and comes up with a schedule.

One more thing: PPS requires LEED gold energy rating of its new buildings. "We strive to get as much as we can while balancing the needs of the rest of the educational program," says Hidalgo. "We did the work for Faubion, which is LEED gold. We're seeing if we can't stretch our fingers to get to Platinum this time."

COURTESY: BORA ARCHITECTS - An early plan by BORA Architects showing how the new athletic field at Lincoln High School will occupy the east end of the site where the crumbling, overcrowded school building currently sits. The new high-rise building will be built at the west end, shown by the white shape on the left.

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The future of mass timber

Terry Whitehill is the Building Official for the City of Portland. He recently attended 10 days of code hearings in Columbus, Ohio sponsored by the International Code Council. These hearings set building codes for the U.S. and foreign countries, laying out how to build with each type of material. The forum meets every three years.

He specifically went because of wood. Cross laminated timber and mass timber (or "heavy timber" as it is known in code circles) have been the hot topic lately.

"The buildings we protect the most are schools, assemblies and hospitals," said Whitehill, explaining why mass timber has not been used for tall schools yet.

There is good news. Proposed changes that address the use of mass timber have sailed through the first round of international code hearings and should be passed completely in October.

Oregon and Colorado are the furthest ahead with adopting the changes related to mass timber. The process will be done by October 2018, but printing and distributing the materials won't be complete until late 2019.

Right now, you cannot build a mass timber school more than four stories tall. If it passes, as expected, the new code means that on October 1, 2019 there will be three new categories and it will be possible to build much taller schools in mass timber.

"The west coast and south is strongly behind using mass timber, but the central and east are more concerned with using it in taller office buildings up to 18 stories high, as proposed in the new code." At the hearings, representatives from various industries to make the code favorable to their material and unfavorable to others. He says city and fire department representatives easily see through it.

Fire and safety are much on everyone's mind in the building world.

Whitehill says another big topic at the conference was the foam-filled metal panels that fueled the Grenfell Tower fire in London which killed 71 people in 2017. "They brought an amendment to the code that you can't use these panels in buildings more than 40 feet high."

Putting wood to work

Wood is all the rage with architects. Some are putting their money where their mouth is.

In 2019 Hacker will move into a 90,400 square feet cross-laminated-timber building it has designed in Portland's Central Eastside.

The design is based on traditional timber-framed warehouses found in the central east side, it will showcase glue-laminated columns and beams and cross-laminated timber floors.

Hacker will share the space with other office tenants over five floors, and a ground floor restaurant.

PMC Building LLC is the owner of Eastside Office on Southeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, at Stark St. The general contractor is Andersen Construction.

Hacker also designed is the First Tech Federal Credit Union office in Hillsboro. The huge structure set on a rolling hillside has become a must-see destination on the mass timber circuit.

See: hackerarchitects.com/eastside-office

NLT and DLT

BORA's Miguel Hidalgo says mass timber is a hot topic regionally.

"People are intrigued, it's beautiful, it's exciting as a regional material, it has potential to revive a local industry, and the sustainability benefits are huge. So, people are excited about it at a lot of different levels."

Architects are familiar with nail laminated timber. It is made of two-by-sixes stacked on end and nailed together. It's been used to make warehouses on both coasts for a long time. It was used at Clay Creatives' building in Portland.

Dowell laminated timber is similar, using wooden dowels instead of nails. DLT can be kept visible because it can have its acoustic dampening material sandwiched inside it. Both are cheaper than CLT because the manufacturer doesn't need hydraulic presses.


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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