East Lansing’s MSU First in State to Use Mass Timber for Load-bearing Structure

Michigan State University in East Lansing will be the first in the state to use mass timber for a load-bearing structure. The material will be used on the STEM Teaching and Learning Facility, which is expected to open in fall 2020.
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STEM Teaching and Learning Facility
Mass timber will be used for the first time in Michigan on MSU’s planned STEM Teaching and Learning Facility. // Rendering courtesy of Michigan State University

Michigan State University in East Lansing will be the first in the state to use mass timber for a load-bearing structure. The material will be used on the STEM Teaching and Learning Facility, which is expected to open in fall 2020.

Mass timber uses large solid or engineered wood. The $100-million facility will be constructed of glue-laminated wood columns and cross-laminated timber (CLT), a relatively new product for floors and ceilings. It is made by gluing layers of solid wood at cross-grain to create strong, lightweight panels. It’s been used in Europe for more than 20 years, with recent interest in Canada and the U.S.

“We compared mass timber with other framing methods and were intrigued by how far wood has come as a building material,” says John LeFevre, director of planning, design, and construction at MSU. “A major advantage is the speed of construction. The panels can be assembled very quickly.”

Two new mass timber wings on the building will offer 117,000 square feet of teaching labs in response to a 40-percent increase in STEM course demand over 10 years at MSU.

The building will be constructed around the former Shaw Lane Power Plant and will include a science studio space and a common area with a café.

“As a leading public research university, MSU has the … opportunity to showcase these innovative and sustainable construction methods in the state of Michigan,” says Satish Udpa, acting president of the university. “I am delighted to see university operations, including building construction, pull from our state’s history as a lumber leader and mesh with the engineering capabilities of advanced materials.”

The process offers economic and environmental benefits.

“By weight, carbon makes up half of wood,” says Rich Kobe, forest ecologist and chairperson of MSU’s Department of Forestry. “Growing trees sustainably, using all of the harvested wood, and incorporating it into a long-term structure extends the carbon and climate benefits of forests. And those re-growing forests take up more carbon and provide important wildlife habitat and clean water.”

Conservation organizations including the Michigan Nature Conservancy, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and the Michigan Forest Biomaterials Institute are promoting mass-timber construction.

“Mass-timber construction provides a new market for sustainably produced timber that encourages forest landowners to keep their woodlands healthy and growing,” says Helen Taylor, director of the Michigan Nature Conservancy. “And forests are the world’s most cost-effective carbon-capture tool.”

The panels are being manufactured in Quebec and will arrive at MSU later this month.

“Michigan is ideally situated to become a leader in mass-timber manufacturing,” says Mark Rudnicki, executive director of the Michigan Forest Biomaterials Institute. “We have abundant forest resources that are managed sustainably and the manufacturing know-how. But there is not a building CLT manufacturer in the central U.S.”

Classes are expected to begin in the new building in January 2021. The project architect is IDS with Ellenzweig Architecture, IDEO Design, and Sasaki Design. Granger Construction Co. will serve as construction manager.

The project broke ground in August.

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