An innovative project by Penticton-based Structurlam is once again leading change in the construction industry.
“Why is this so exciting? Because it has the potential to change the way we construct buildings,” said Bill Downing, president of Structurlam Ltd. “In much the same way our glulam beams replace steel with wood, we anticipate that cross-lam is going to replace concrete and it has a number of advantages over concrete.”
A new facility in Okanagan Falls, located at the former Weyerhaeuser site, will be used to create the cross-laminated product and already there is consideration for expanding the plant even further using the cross-laminated product. It is anticipated the panels will be in production by June, and because they are prefabricated in the plant down to a three millimeter accuracy they are efficient for builders.
“So it can literally be taken from the truck and installed right on site, which reduces installation time greatly,” said Downing.
The panels have high seismic values, good acoustic properties and are very light compared to concrete. Downing said this is helpful when constructing on poor soils. The new product, which is environmentally friendly and takes a lot loss energy to make, was developed in Europe in the 1990s and only recently caught on overseas.
According to Downing, it is technically feasible with cross-laminated panels to build highrise wood buildings up to 30 storeys. The main issues arising are fire and building codes, currently the building code allows for six storeys.
The Structurlam product will be used in the UBC childcare centre and it has been specified for the UBC Earth Sciences building, Elkford community centre and the North Vancouver outdoor school. The Okanagan Falls facility will produce 12 more jobs, but if demand grows Structurlam expects it could grow to another dozen jobs. Downing said there is one other plant in Quebec that is getting into the production, but Structurlam is the only large-scale manufacturer in western North America.
Structurlam is world famous for its innovative wood products found in the Richmond Oval, Whistler Athletes Village and Vancouver Convention Centre.
“Over its 50-year history, Structurlam has gained a reputation for adopting new technology to expand the use of engineered wood product,” said Downing. “We now expand the use of wood again with the production of CLT panels. Today’s investment from Natural Resources Canada will jump start production and allow architects to immediately specify the panels in commercial and institutional construction, while taking advantage of the abundant beetle-killed fibre that is currently available.”
Okanagan Coquihalla MP Stockwell Day announced funding of $2.5 million from the federal government. This, in conjunction with a $2.5 million contribution from the B.C. government and $7.5 million through cash and in-kind contributions, will assist in Structurlam’s new venture.
“These are investments and we have seen over the last two years when you are willing to invest, even when times look tough, you get the positive results. We have seen increases in the forestry industry right across the board,” said Day of why the government continues to spend money in leaner economic times. “This is amazing, next generation, value-added technology. It’s going to mean more jobs here. Now is not the time to be stepping back, but to be staying aggressive and the folks right here are proving that it works.”
Concrete was poured last week into the 15,000 square foot Okanagan Falls facility that will be home to one of the largest planers in the world, equipment that was purchased from Europe.
“Taking wood product and being able to do things with it that maybe haven’t been done before — I want to congratulate Structurlam in this particular area because they continue to be on the leading edge coming up with these cross-laminated products that do a number of things and lessens the construction time but extends the longevity of whatever projects they are doing,” said Day.