Cross Laminated Timber Projects come to Tacoma and Spokane

by Ashley Bach

It’s an exciting time for cross-laminated timber in Washington. There are the 20 state-funded classrooms being built with CLT in the Sequim, Seattle, Mount Vernon, Wapato and Toppenish public school districts. Then there is the new mass timber manufacturing company from Vaagen Brothers in Colville called Vaagen Timbers, which will be the first CLT manufacturer in Washington.

Now comes word of two CLT projects in Tacoma – one a new Amtrak station set to open this fall and the other a proposed 14-story high-rise in downtown Tacoma.

The new train station will be the first in the country ever built using CLT.

The new Amtrak station, built by Garco and scheduled to open this fall, is part of the $149.9M Point Defiance Bypass high-speed rail project, which will reroute passenger train traffic through DuPont, Lakewood and Tacoma, creating a faster travel route.

The CLT, provided by SmartLam, will be used as a structural roof deck. It will be exposed on the underside (a 20-foot ceiling) and supported by exposed Douglas fir glulam (glued laminated timber) beams. According to SmartLam, CLT was chosen for the project because of its increased speed of installation, visual aesthetic and competitive pricing compared to other methods of construction.

The 14-story high-rise would be Washington’s first tall building to use CLT, according to The Urbanist.

(It would) be even taller than Portland’s 12-story Pearl District CLT tower, which just got final go ahead to build. Tacoma’s tower would use a steel frame, whereas Portland’s is CLT through and through.

…The Tacoma project could demonstrate a path to early implementation of mass timber technologies: adaptive reuse projects in historic preservation districts. CLT’s advantages over concrete include it being more lightweight and the natural wood grain can blend better with historic brick buildings. The lighter weight makes it easier to engineer a cross-laminated timber addition to a historic brick buildings since it requires less reinforcing of the structure compared to a heavier material. Refurbishing existing structures with some CLT additions seems to be Horizon Partners’ plan to meet the historic preservation requirements of Tacoma’s Brewery District, which is within the Union Station Conservation District.

According to a Spokane Spokesman-Review story last month, a Cross-Fit gym built with CLT is nearing completion in Spokane. The gym will be the city’s first CLT building.

The CLT movement is growing, according to the Spokesman-Review.

“It’s still a new market, but I saw enough opportunities with it to step away from my duties with Vaagen Brothers Lumber to develop this company,” said Russ Vaagen, Vaagen Brothers’ former president, who will head up Vaagen Timbers.

…Supporters say CLT shows promise on a number of fronts. The panels can be made out of scrawny trees culled from forests to reduce fire danger, which might not otherwise be economical to harvest.

If the wood replaces steel and concrete building materials, which are energy-intensive to produce, it reduces the structure’s carbon footprint. Wood also sequesters carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere.

And if CLT takes off as a building material, it would create manufacturing jobs in struggling, rural timber towns.

Last year, the state of Washington’s capital budget included $5.5 million for a pilot project to build 20 elementary school classrooms out of CLT.

An Oregon company supplied the material for the classrooms because Washington currently doesn’t have a producer.

“There’s a gap right now, but we’re hoping to change that,” said Hilary Franz, Washington’s public lands commissioner.