Tools of the trade
December 22, 2022

Planning and Designing Wood Schools in British Columbia

School districts across BC have ready access to homegrown leading-edge technology and expertise in educational facilities for the future.

Over the last 10 years, more than fifty K-12 schools across BC incorporated wood into their building design and learning spaces. The natural feel of wood creates optimal learning conditions and healthier places for children, teachers, and staff. Many companies pushing the boundaries of wood design and construction are located in BC. 

Samuel Brighouse Elementary

Explore a wood school in BC

Samuel Brighouse Elementary School, located in Richmond, opened in April 2011, three months earlier than scheduled, and has a stunning design, welcomed by students and staff alike.

An undulating wood roof is the school’s signature architectural feature. Not only does it look fantastic, but it was prefabricated off-site so shop and field construction could proceed concurrently. It also took half the time to cover the building than a roof built on-site.

Samuel Brighouse Elementary School | Photo: Andrew Latreille


Next Generation: Building three- to four-storey wood schools

Throughout the province, new school projects are being planned that anticipate requiring either three-or four-storey buildings. It is forecasted that the demand for school buildings of this size will continue to rise. This four-part series from Wood WORKS! BC covers design; risk and alternative solutions; cost; and life cycle analysis comparisons.

Design Options: This study explores timber construction for schools up to four storeys, with a focus on the main classroom blocks, as these portions of the building are the ones that are the most likely to increase the number of storeys.

Risk Analysis: Drawing from the Design Options report, this risk analysis evaluates the level of performance of larger schools using mass timber construction while fulfilling the fire safety objectives of the BC Building Code.

Cost Comparison: Building on the previous Design Options and Risk Analysis reports, this cost comparison provides guidance in assessing and comparing mass timber construction options on a cost basis.

Life Cycle Analysis: This report provides a life cycle analysis comparison associated with the construction of new school buildings in BC, based on four different framing systems.



Wood school design

Listen to Ray Wolfe of thinkspace discussing how and why wood is becoming a more prevalent choice for projects.

Maddaugh Elementary School in Surrey provides an enhanced gymnasium facility and gathering place for the students and surrounding community | Photo: Upper Left Photography



Leading wood school projects

Wood schools create safe, healthy, culturally significant, and inspiring learning environments. Read about the wide range of educational facilities that have incorporated wood into their designs.

École Au-cœur-de-l’île in Comox | Photo: Derek Lepper Photography


Seismic design + upgrades

First and foremost, schools are community buildings. Designed to be safe places to learn. Because they are built to rigorous standards, to withstand earthquakes, wind and fire, many communities have designated schools as a safe place to gather.

In the aftermath of a disaster, wood is a versatile and resilient building material well-suited to repairing and rebuilding structures.

Although wood buildings are known to perform well in earthquakes, proper detailing is essential. To this end, a basic understanding of how lateral loads impact wood framing systems, and how construction detailing and fasteners affect the ultimate performance of a structure, is invaluable.

Wood was chosen for the seismic upgrade of Wellington Secondary School in Nanaimo due to its ability to be economical, beneficial for scheduling, and visually appealing for staff and students | Photo: Sunny Jhooty Photography

More sophisticated approaches to the seismic design of buildings have been developed as our understanding of earthquake behaviour has evolved. 

This report by Wood WORKS! BC covers an overview of British Columbia’s Seismic Mitigation Program and includes three case studies that describe the design approach and construction for the seismic upgrade of Surrey Christian Primary Wing; Cordova Bay Elementary School; and Wellington Secondary School.

The School District demolished and replaced select portions of Cordova Bay Elementary School using a cost-effective combination of cross-laminated timber (CLT) and nail-laminated timber (NLT) | Photo: Krista Jahnke


buy local

BC's wood suppliers

BC has a wide range of forest product manufacturers for your school needs. Engineered mass timber products such as glulam and CLT allow the construction of large schools while fulfilling the fire safety objectives of the BC Building Code. Finishes such as doors, wall paneling, and flooring surround students and teachers in the warmth of wood.


Whole-building life cycle assessment

The goal of green design is to achieve sustainability by designing and building structures that use less energy, water, and materials, and minimize impacts on human health and the environment. Whole-building life cycle assessment (wbLCA) supports this by quantifying the environmental impacts of resource consumption, embodied carbon or greenhouse gas emissions, and waste throughout the building’s life. Using LCA helps support the best environmental choice of products, such as low-carbon building materials like wood.

Kwakiutl Wagalus School in Port Hardy features western red cedar from local forests in every aspect of the building’s design | Photo: Lubor Trubka Associates Architects



Wood + sustainability

The Low Carbon Building Materials and LEED v4  from the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change describes how to incorporate low-carbon building materials into LEED v4 projects.

Gibson’s Elementary School is LEED Canada 2009 Gold certified and utilizes glulam beams and columns as the primary structural material | Architect: KMBR Architects | Photo: Ed White Photographics, courtesy KMBR Architects 



Explore our resources

Our resource centre is a great place to grow your know-how on wood use in schools. Topics range from cost comparison and seismic design to virtual tours and podcasts with industry experts.

wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm Elementary School (pronunciation) in Vancouver is a nearly
all mass timber structure with a flexible, interconnected plan | Photo: Bright Photography