At first glance, it looks like a wooden castle is going up in downtown Sudbury.
Crews at the site of the new 54,000 square foot Laurentian University School of Architecture building have been pouring concrete and installing rebar in the way you might expect at a construction site.
But two-story high walls made from an engineered wood product not often seen in northern Ontario have also suddenly popped up over the last couple of weeks.
“It goes together like an erector set,” said Terrance Galvin, the founding director of the school.
“The panels came flat. People have been excited, I think, watching how quickly — in under two weeks — these two storeys seems to get snapped together.”
The panels Galvin is talking about are made from what is called cross-laminated timber (CLT) — essentially glue sandwiched between layers of board from spruce or pine trees.
The result is a solid block or sheet of wood that can be trimmed to the shapes needed to create the structure and walls for a building.
The castle-like appearance at the architecture school site will disappear when beams are placed in the notches of the panels to provide support for the walls.
The product is considered environmentally sustainable because it uses small trees rather than old-growth forest, and those smaller trees can be replaced more quickly through reforestation programs.
While it may be new to people in northern Ontario, CLT is not a new technology, Galvin said. It has long been used in European countries, and some Canadian provinces such as Quebec and B.C.
Regulation has stood in the way of wide-spread use of CLT in Ontario, Galvin said.
But the province recently changed regulations to allow CLT, which is designed to resist fire in buildings up to six stories high. Previously, wood construction was limited to buildings with no more than two floors.
The Laurentian architecture school building is being used as a demonstration product to show that not only can it be used in buildings in Ontario, it could also be produced in the province, Galvin said.
“We are hoping to use it as a catalyst.”- Terrance Galvin, school director
“We are hoping to use it as a catalyst and a pilot project and a teaching tool,” he said.
“But eventually … we hope that people will be able to produce CLT in Ontario and I think that is on the horizon somewhere in the not-so-distant future.”
The CLT for the architecture school was brought in from Quebec because there was no supplier in Ontario.
But a provincial agency called the Centre for Research and Innovation in the Bio-Economy hopes that will change.
It provided Laurentian University with $350,000 to help fund the use of CLT in the new building.
Terrance Galvin explained how CLT is being used to reporter Megan Thomas on CBC Radio’s Morning North.