Experts project U.S. schools will need to accommodate an additional 2.8 million students by 2024. At the same time, as the average age of educational facilities at every level has increased—and as rapidly evolving student needs and technology place new pressures on administrators—repair and renovation have become critical for schools striving to remain relevant.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that 39 percent of public schools had plans for major renovations to at least one building by 2015.

Common Ground High School | Architect: Grey Organschi Architects | Photo: David Sundberg; Common Ground High School: Winner, 2017 Wood Design Awards

Market Opportunities

In the past, cinder-block or other forms of concrete construction were used to satisfy educational institutions’ needs for quick-turn construction. Today, however, schools are placing a premium on organic materials, sustainability and brighter, more open interiors—all areas where wood construction thrives.

Designing and building with wood can help architects and developers capture their share of the expanding educational building market while simultaneously addressing some of the common challenges that come with those types of projects:

  • Tight timelines. School projects are usually tied to the academic calendar, with project work often restricted to a summer window. Wood construction is fast and efficient. Even complex projects can be sped up using next-generation wood, which is prepped off site and can be rapidly assembled on site by a small crew.
  • Limited budgets. Projects in the educational marketplace often come with strict budgets. Wood offers excellent value as a building material.
  • Stringent safety requirements. Built properly, wood structures will meet or exceed all safety codes. Structures 12 stories and higher can be safely constructed with next-generation wood, which comes with excellent seismic performance and fire resistance.
  • Sustainability standards. Major school districts are increasingly following the lead of schools in California and Washington, D.C., in calling for greener school buildings. As a renewable resource, wood can help your projects meet or exceed the most stringent green-building certification standards.

Environmental charter school Common Ground High School in New Haven, Connecticut, wanted its new addition to reflect the values of the school and its curriculum. So its new space was designed using wood, including panels of cross-laminated timber (CLT) as an exterior skin and interior finish, and glue-laminated timber (glulam) and timber trusses to carry loads. A crew of five framed the structure in just four weeks from prefabricated components. The project met all code requirements and since opening has received excellent reviews from school officials, the staff and students.

Spending on education building construction is predicted to grow by 4.8 percent year-over-year in 2018. Although demographic trends will be a drag on growth potential in this sector, it is still considered to be a healthy market. American Institute of Architects Consensus Construction Forecast

Wood Promotes Positive Learning Environments

Studies show that wood construction offers several benefits conducive to a positive learning environment. Wood has been shown to reduce stress levels among building occupants while improving their productivity and increasing their comfort. The material has acoustical properties that can be used to control sound and thermal properties that help ensure comfort while remaining energy-efficient.

Learn more about the Martha C. Cutts Gymnasium

Washington Latin Public Charter School, in Washington, D.C., was able to create a structure that met a wide range of technical demands while also serving as an appealing space that students enjoy. The gymnasium building uses CLT inside and out, helping the project achieve budget, schedule, code and sustainability demands.

Opportunities Abound for Colleges and Universities

Another area of major demand in the educational marketplace is for student housing. Colleges lack enough on-campus housing, and off-campus housing is often aging and outdated, even as enrollment is increasing. Today, students want to live closer to campus—in denser, multiuse structures near retail, fitness and other amenities.

Wood construction offers rapid, modular assembly and allows designers to create open, fluid floorplans, making the material a strong solution for student-housing projects. Wood’s fire resistance, durability, and acoustical and thermal properties are of particular benefit to high-density buildings. With today’s tight project timeframes, wood can help designers, engineers and developers get student-housing facilities online in time for the new school year.

Resource Downloads

Project Details for Martha C Cutts Gymnasium at Washington Latin School and Common Ground High School

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