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Why It's Time to Build More Wooden Schools

The B1M | 4:03

Why It's Time to Build More Wooden Schools

Adam Savage

26 April 2021

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This video and article contain paid promotion for Stora Enso.

IT'S a material that's already growing in popularity across the construction sector. But now, studies have shown that building our schools out of wood can boost the wellbeing of children.

The finding adds to a list of benefits for timber construction that already includes a smaller carbon footprint, reduced noise and waste, improved performance in many areas and striking aesthetics. 

Despite the conclusion of several studies, wooden schools remain uncommon in most countries.

Quality new schools are needed all over the world, but building them quickly and sustainably is a challenge, especially when timescales for construction are becoming tighter.

“We have the time where we start and the time where we have to hand over the building and these periods of time are getting shorter and shorter because we have a shortage of schools,” says Philipp Zumbrunnen, director at timber construction specialist Eurban.

“We need to be fast, but we also need to build at a high quality and that’s an important thing that we can deliver with cross-laminated timber.”

Above: To make cross-laminated timber, alternating layers of wood are bonded using high-strength adhesives and then compressed together. Image courtesy of Stora Enso. 

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) is a strong, versatile and cost-effective wood material with a much lower carbon footprint than traditional alternatives such as concrete and steel.

The wood is sourced from sustainably managed forests and then engineered in offsite factories to make building elements - such as walls, floor cassettes or roof panels. These are then delivered to site and erected.

According to research, using the material in a school setting can provide health and wellbeing benefits too.

“Wood has a number of advantages,” says Rory Doak, business development manager for the UK and Ireland at Stora Enso, a global renewable materials company.

“We’ve seen studies that show children are more focused in wooden schools where the surfaces are exposed, their stress is reduced, and they have an overall connection with nature learning in these environments.”

Modern mass timber such as CLT offers high fire resistance and performs just as well as - or even better than - concrete and steel in other areas like strength.

Above: Wood can be engineered to be stronger than steel pound-for-pound. Image courtesy of Stora Enso.

“We are designing to exactly the same standard. It doesn’t matter if it’s a concrete building or a steel building, we have to fulfil the same requirements, and we do,” notes Zumbrunnen.

“We have done a lot of tests providing the evidence to show that timber buildings are safe - they’re safe against fire, they’re safe against moisture and they are there to last.”

Stora Enso, Eurban and UK contractor Kier are working to bring more wooden schools to the UK and other countries.

The group has already delivered a number of big projects using CLT, including Phase One of the new Northstowe Learning Community in Cambridge, which involved building several schools and a sports centre on one site.

“Looking at different tools and ways of delivery they settled down with CLT based on its environmental credentials, the reduced noise on site, the reduced dust and the efficiencies in the build programme,” Doak reveals.

Zumbrunnen adds: “They really trusted the system. They can see it works for them as a school; the kids are happy, the teachers are happy and this is an extremely important thing.”

Above: Using CLT on the Northstowe Learning Community project allowed the team to meet a number of challenging environmental requirements. Image courtesy of Kier Construction.

It’s just one of many positive case studies to emerge recently highlighting the positives of timber schools, but some key obstacles have to be overcome before this becomes more widespread. A lack of expertise in the market is one of them.

“I think the barriers always come down to having the network of consultants you can call upon to help design these schools and when we look at the procurement stage I think it’s really important that there’s an awareness of the special considerations you might have to make,” Doak explains.

Better knowledge sharing is also needed to increase the adoption of timber among school builders, which would benefit both the industry and young people all over the world.

“The only way to deliver better schools that are more eco-friendly is to change,” concludes Zumbrunnen. “There is a demand for more timber schools and now it’s important for us - the industry - and everyone involved to be able to deliver a high quality, sustainable and also enjoyable product for the end users.”

Join us and a panel of timber construction experts on 29 April for a LIVE discussion on how building schools out of wood can improve the lives of children everywhere.

The panel will be hosted by The B1M's Fred Mills and feature expert insight from Stora Enso, Kier, Eurban, Frank Shaw Associates and Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust.

Our thanks to Stora Enso, Eurban and Kier. Additional footage and images courtesy of Stora Enso, Kier, Eurban and Aberdeenshire Council.

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