By Joseph Mayo

A few years ago, several of us here at Mahlum wondered why more mass timber K-12 schools, especially larger and multi-story structures, were not being built in Washington State. Our research showed that building codes did not appear to be a major impediment, and several mass timber manufacturers were already established or had recently come on-line in the region, meaning supply was not a problem either. We had also witnessed evidence of mass timber’s environmental benefits, as well as benefits to the state’s economy and jobs. So we asked ourselves what the issues might be. Was the lack of mass timber schools related to cost? Or structural design? Or maybe the concept of multi-story, mass timber K-12 schools is just too new and therefore perceived as too risky?

To find answers to these questions, we formed an expert mass timber team comprised of Mahlum staff and consultant firms and submitted a proposal to the USDA/US Forest Service for a Wood Innovations Grant to explore the feasibility and benefits of multi-story K-12 schools. With the grant approved, we embarked on a two-year long study and wrote a report with our findings titled United States Forest Service Wood Innovation Report: Multi-Story Mass Timber K-12 Schools. Click here to download a PDF of the final report.

When we applied for the Wood Innovations Grant, our proposal was to compare a prototypical 2-3 story mass timber school to one built predominantly of structural steel (the current norm for multi-story K-12 schools in Washington). Once the grant was secured, the team dissected all aspects of the two different construction types and analyzed them in terms of design flexibility, embodied carbon, indoor environmental quality, acoustics, mechanical distribution, structural framing, sourcing, constructability, and cost.

At the heart of this report is a demonstration that the use of local, natural, carbon sequestering materials can offer a broad benefit for climate health, as well as the health of building occupants and our communities. What’s more, taking a holistic view of construction and cost shows mass timber can compete economically with other standard building materials. We hope that you will read and share this report with others.

This project would not have been possible without generous funding from the USDA/US Forest Service, as well as the incredible hard work and donated time from the project team:

Architect: Mahlum Architects
Contractor and Cost: Walsh Construction
Structural Engineer: Fast+Epp
MEP and Technology Engineer: PAE Engineers
Acoustical Engineer: Arup
Mass Timber Supplier: Vaagen Timbers
K-12 “Client”: Sequim School District

If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at: