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Oct. 26, 2021

MSU Mass Timber STEM facility wins Forest Stewardship Council Leadership Award

Award acknowledges university, project team for creating Michigan’s first Mass Timber building

A leading forest-certification organization has recognized Michigan State University for its extensive use of sustainable mass timber in the construction of the new STEM Teaching and Learning Facility adjacent to Spartan Stadium.

Citing the innovation and excellence of the new classroom/laboratory facility that opened in September, the Forest Stewardship Council , or FSC, Leadership Award in the building and construction category honored MSU along with five project partners.

“For the STEM Facility, MSU envisioned and created a transformative building that represents the MSU commitment to its students — providing collaborative, innovative spaces while embracing the past, the present and the future of learning,” said Amy Butler, MSU’s Sustainability director. “Using mass timber for this project aligns with MSU’s role as a land grant and top tier research institution that teaches and builds a sustainable economy through leading by design, demonstrates innovative building approaches and inspires others to take action to solve the world’s complex problems.”  

With its 2021 Leadership Awards, FSC — an international nonprofit forest-certification organization — recognizes uncommon excellence that advances responsible, forest management and forest conservation. MSU’s STEM Facility is Michigan’s first mass timber building.

“So proud of Michigan State University for being recognized for its design innovation in building the state’s first mass-timber facility,” said  U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. “This building stands as a tribute to Michigan’s ingenuity and leadership. It is proof that we can protect the planet and grow the economy at the same time.”  

Mass timber is an umbrella term for a variety of panelized, engineered wood building materials. With an array of structural and decorative uses, they include  large cross-laminated timber, or CLT, panels and glue-laminated (glulam) columns and beams.

Well-established in parts of Europe, mass timber for structural purposes is gaining popularity in North America because its lighter weight, faster construction timeline and lower carbon footprint can make it a better substitute for steel or concrete.

“Mass timber unites our forests with our cities and towns by creating beautiful buildings that are an important part of efforts to solve climate change,” said Sandra Lupien, director of MassTimber@MSU, which mobilizes education, science, outreach and communication to advance mass timber construction and manufacture in Michigan, and the surrounding region. "Plus, design elements like exposed mass timber cultivate the type of warm, bright, airy and energizing environment that makes the MSU STEM facility feel full of possibilities.”

“Trees are a renewable resource that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their trunks, branches, roots and forest soil,” said Richard Kobe, chair of the MSU Department of Forestry. “Mass timber continues to store much of that carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere, where it would contribute to climate change. The 3,100 cubic meters of sustainably grown and harvested mass timber used in the MSU STEM Facility store about 1,856 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents — that's like avoiding nearly 4.7 million miles driven by an average vehicle or not burning more than 2 million pounds of coal.”

Since the STEM facility is one of the few new learning facilities constructed on campus over the past five decades, MSU wanted to create a an appealing, high-profile structure for state-of-the-art classrooms and wet/dry laboratories to consolidate gateway science, technology, engineering and math courses for students.

MSU selected a prominent site in the middle of campus that opted for an innovative re-use approach for the building’s core, which is built around a boiler from MSU's decommissioned Shaw Lane coal-fired power plant.

Collaboration between the University’s Infrastructure, Planning and Facilities team and academics from the Department of Forestry and the School of Planning, Design and Construction led to the university’s decision to select a mass timber and steel hybrid structural system for the two new classroom and laboratory wings that comprise about 117,000 square feet of new construction.

“MSU has a long tradition of establishing high standards for its construction projects that focus on life-cycle cost,” said John LeFevre, director of Planning, Design and Construction with MSU’s Department of Infrastructure, Planning, and Facilities. “We challenged the STEM architects and construction managers to look at alternative framing systems for this project and the economics of using MT construction were competitive. Then, considering all other functional and aesthetic aspects of the system, the leadership team was able to fully support it.”

The facility promises to be a campus landmark that emphasizes the value of STEM curriculum, serves as a transformational learning environment, and — as Michigan’s first mass timber building — serves as a beautiful bastion of innovative and sustainable building design.  

“The STEM building will have a great positive impact on Michigan’s construction industry, serving as a physical place where contractors can learn the finer points of building with mass timber in an emerging market,” said George Berghorn, assistant professor of construction management at MSU. “Mass timber projects require highly integrated project teams, fine-tuned logistics management, strong coordination among trades and reworked contract language to ensure that wood is protected once it is installed.”

The MassTimber@MSU program is developing case studies to share these lessons with members of the architecture, engineering, and construction community throughout the United States.

The FSC Leadership Awards celebrate forest owners, builders, architects, retailers, paper mills, manufacturers, environmental organizations and many others who contribute to the movement toward responsible sourcing and forest management. In addition to acknowledging the university, FSC also awarded MSU’s project partners on the STEM Facility whose dedication to the mass timber vision made the building come to life: Granger Construction (general contractor); IDS (Integrated Design Solutions — architect/engineer); Ellenzweig (architect); Chantiers Chibougamau (mass timber supplier); and Christman Constructors, Inc. (erectors).

“The depth and breadth of the award winners this year is truly inspiring,” said Chris McLaren, chief marketing officer of FSC US. “With growing concerns about climate change and biodiversity, these leaders show that responsible forest management and sourcing are critical parts of any sustainability initiative.”


By: Sandra Lupien

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