Mass Timber to Make Two Vancouver Schools More Earthquake-Resistant

As part of it’s 2017 Budget Update, the B.C. Government invested $46.9 million to replace two Vancouver schools – $22.4-million for Vancouver’s Sir Matthew Begbie Elementary school and $22.5-million for Bayview Community Elementary school, both of which were at high risk of collapsing in an earthquake.

On June 15, 2021, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Seamus O’Regan Jr., announced an additional $1,482,000 investment in British Columbia’s Vancouver School Board to contribute to the construction of these two schools.

Bayview Elementary School and Sir Mathew Begbie Elementary School are part of a Vancouver School Board pilot project for future mass timber schools. The original structure of Bayview Elementary School was demolished, making way for a new school to be built over the existing footprint with a greater resistance against earthquakes. Designed by Francl Architecture, working with Fast and Epp structural engineers, the building consists of two-storeys of classrooms and teaching areas, as well as a gymnasium and Neighbourhood Learning Centre.

Bayview Elementary School (Rendering courtesy of Francl Architecture via naturally:wood)
Bayview Elementary School Interior (Rendering courtesy of Francl Architecture via naturally:wood)
Bayview Elementary School (Rendering courtesy of Francl Architecture via naturally:wood)

Designed by HCMA Architecture + Design, working with Fast + Epp structural engineers, Sir Mathew Begbie Elementary School will be a completely new, 34,000-square-foot modern design with open learning spaces. With the use of mass timber as the primary building material, the total carbon benefit is approximately 1,400 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of removing hundreds of cars from the road for a year.

Sir Mathew Begbie Elementary School Seismic Replacement (Rendering courtesy of HCMA Architecture + Design via naturally:wood)
Sir Mathew Begbie Elementary School Seismic Replacement (Rendering courtesy of HCMA Architecture + Design via naturally:wood)
Sir Mathew Begbie Elementary School Seismic Replacement (Rendering courtesy of HCMA Architecture + Design via naturally:wood)

“These two schools serve as a great example of the potential that can be realized with mass timber construction. In addition to meeting the demands of the seismic mitigation program, the timber framing systems used in these buildings provide warm, inviting spaces for the school community as well as help the school board meet their sustainability objectives,” said Nick Bevilacqua, Principal, Fast + Epp structural engineers.

Sir Matthew Begbie Elementary – 12-03-20 – Installation of level two wall panels (Photo: Courtesy of Fast + Epp)

This additional funding for the project is provided through Natural Resources Canada’s Green Construction through Wood (GCWood) Program, which encourages the use of wood in non-traditional construction projects, such as tall wood buildings, low-rise non-residential buildings and bridges. The program aims to position Canada as a world leader in innovative wood construction technologies and the low-carbon economy.

Sir Matthew Begbie Elementary School – Completed structure of the new school with existing school behind (Photo: Courtesy of Fast + Epp)

“Students and staff deserve to spend their days in schools that are built seismically safe with sustainable products. Our government acted fast to provide $46.9 million to replace these schools and give students a better place to go to learn. To see mass timber being used in construction is a very exciting development. This is an example of how we can work together to combat climate change and support B.C. mass timber technology while also providing the best possible learning environment for students,” said Jennifer Whiteside, British Columbia’s Minister of Education.

Sir Mathew Begbie Elementary School – Gymnasium during construction (Photo: Courtesy of Fast + Epp)

According to a ministry of Natural Resources release, projects like this help Canada achieve its 2030 climate change goals by finding effective ways of building sustainably using Canadian wood products, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving seismic performance.

“Wood is being used more and more in building bigger and taller buildings, and we’re leading the world at it. Creating new markets for Canadian timber supports our forestry workers, creates jobs and gets us to net-zero,” said Seamus O’Regan Jr., Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources.

Sir Mathew Begbie Elementary School Seismic Replacement (Photo: Courtesy of Fast + Epp)

According to Fast + Epp, it partnered with the University of Northern British Columbia and the University of Alberta to conduct a series of testing programs for improved material and performance efficiency for these projects. The successful integration of these innovative systems may lead the way for other school designs that follow.

“The Vancouver School Board is delighted to be partnering with Natural Resources Canada and the BC Ministry of Education in this exciting project, where two of our schools will be one of the first in Canada to use mass timber in their seismic replacement buildings. Incorporating this renewable, sustainable product supports the Board’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint,” said Carmen Cho, Chair, Vancouver School Board.

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