Located seventy kilometres east of Vancouver in the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford Senior Secondary School features wood as part of a major rehabilitation and replacement project.
Central to its design, and crowning the school’s three-storey structure, is an intricate and impressive timber rotunda roof built of exposed glue-laminated timber and wood decking. School principal and educator Rob Comeau shares how wood is making the school a place where students feel at home, whether they’re enjoying a piano concert in the rotunda or getting hands-on experience building a tiny wood house as part of their green technology program.
Q: Why did you pursue a career in education?
A: I was born and raised in Alberta on a farm. I did my undergrad in agriculture and came out at the wrong time to be a farmer and rancher in the early 1980s. I went to my second love, which was teaching.
Q: Describe your connection to wood as a building material.
A: When working on the farm, wood was a tool. It was a fence post, it was a crossbeam, it was the outside of a grain bin. It was simply functional. On the farm, it wasn’t meant to create an emotion, but here in B.C. you see the craftsmanship that people can put into the design of a building and how beautiful wood can look.
Q: What makes a school well designed?
A: Open spaces and light are some of the best design qualities in a school. If you’re in a dark, dingy cubicle, you’re not feeling very good about where you are. When you can see light and the natural craftsmanship of wood that exists here, those are good design features. That’s B.C. architecture—light, wood, and space.
Q: Abbotsford Senior Secondary School underwent a major rehabilitation and replacement project. Can you elaborate on how wood was used in the structural and finishing components?
A: It’s a blend of old meets new and it’s done in a classy way. When you walk in, you’re immediately drawn to the grandeur of the rotunda. There are some very interesting design pieces that catch your eye when you come in. Aesthetically, wood is beautiful, and it speaks to who we are as British Columbians.
Q: How did the new design of the school reuse some of the existing wood from the original structure?
A: When they took the ceiling out, they found beautiful rafters. They looked at them and they said, “We can’t destroy this.” We’ve exposed those rafters, stained them, and it is the most gorgeous, inviting gym that you’d ever want to walk into. And some of the older parents still recognize the wood from beams we’ve repurposed as seats in our rotunda. It’s a conversation starter of their memories and time in the school. Now our international baccalaureate business class is going to open up a coffee shop and we’re going to take those remaining reclaimed beams and make them into the countertops and high-top tables— refashioning that wood one more time to create another wonderful part of the building. Wood has a way of speaking to you, years, even decades later.
Q: Research is demonstrating that the visual presence of wood indoors can significantly reduce stress levels. Do you experience this in your school?
A: I think you definitely feel better once you’ve been in a space that incorporates wood. It clears your head. We often have students that just come to the rotunda to be there, enjoy the space, and hang out. It’s open and the wood beams are beautiful and inviting. I think it helps with anxiety.
Four case studies and architectural drawings that provide solutions to common issues in mass-timber building design are now available.
Advancements in construction technology, modernized building codes, and a demand for sustainable design are making wood the right choice for a variety of residential and hotel projects. Wood products from B.C.’s sustainably managed forests are also helping to meet the growing demand for affordable housing; wood is well-suited for economical and timely construction — notably in hard to reach places, including downtown sites and remote locations.
More multi-family developers are discovering that the innovative use of wood and mass-timber construction doesn’t just save money, it can be an advantage that sets you apart in a sea of condos that begin to all look the same. Increasingly, both buyers and renters are placing importance on organic materials, sustainability, and warm, inviting interiors—all areas where wood construction excels.
The Shore is a multi-building residential development located a few blocks from the North Vancouver waterfront. The project includes both five and six-storey wood-frame buildings constructed over a single storey concrete parking garage. On completion of the fourth building in 2017, the complex will include 359 apartment units.
Leadership in structural and architectural wood use by local governments was recognized at the Union of BC Municipalities Convention in Vancouver.
People spend the vast majority of their life inside buildings. For children and young adults, many of those hours are spent inside educational institutions. Having wood visible in learning spaces has been shown to lower stress and improve concentration and test performance. Along with health and wellness benefits, wood construction is cost effective and often faster than other methods. Learn more about the benefits of building with wood in schools.