Officials at Oregon State University expect to receive a report this week from an outside engineering company outlining why a cross-laminated timber (CLT) panel collapsed at the George W. Peavy Forest Science Center, an 80,000-square-foot classroom and laboratory building under construction on OSU's campus.
No one was injured in the March 14 incident, in which a 4-foot-by-20-foot section of CLT subflooring between the second and third stories delaminated at one end and fell.
General contractor Andersen Construction stopped installing CLT panels after the incident, although work on other parts of the project has continued. OSU officials said CLT installation would not resume until the investigation had determined what caused the panel to fail and all necessary precautions had been taken.
There's a lot at stake in this construction project: The three-story Peavy Hall is meant to be the centerpiece of a planned three-building Oregon Forest Science Complex and will become the new home of OSU’s College of Forestry. Relying heavily on the use of cross-laminated timber panels, glu-lam columns and other engineered wood products rather than steel and concrete for structural support, it was designed to be a showcase for the Oregon timber industry’s capabilities in the emerging field of mass timber construction.
The project has been dogged by controversy: Some students and faculty in the College of Forestry say that the original Peavy Hall, which was torn down in 2016, could have been renovated for far less than the cost of a brand-new building. At the same time, the budget for the entire Forest Service Complex has ballooned, for a variety of reasons, from $60 million to $79 million.
Adding to the stakes is OSU's desire to use Peavy Hall as a demonstration project for mass timber construction. OSU officials say they have no plans to step away from the use of cross-laminated timber elements in the building.
The technique has been used for years in Canada and Europe but is relatively new in the United States. Proponents of the technology say CLT structural members are strong enough to be used in framing midrise and even high-rise buildings. The technology also could be a boon for Oregon's timber industry. But the technology still has its doubters — although, to be fair, many of those doubts have been resolved as CLT materials are used in an increasing number of buildings.
Nevertheless, considering the showcase role that Peavy Hall is intended to fulfill, OSU officials need to ensure that the rest of the construction project is carried out in the most transparent way possible, and that includes releasing the report from the outside engineers in a timely fashion. (It took OSU nearly a week to disclose the March 14 incident; again to be fair, OSU officials say their first priorities after the incident occurred were to secure the building and provide for safety.)
The commitment to transparency shouldn't end with the release of the report. OSU officials also need to keep the public informed about any corrective steps that may be required on the project. And, surely, any lessons learned from this incident could be valuable to anyone developing a CLT project.
Maybe it's unfair to put Peavy under this kind of microscope; certainly, no other recent OSU construction project has operated under this kind of public scrutiny.
On the other hand, no other recent OSU construction project has generated this type of cost overrun, nearly $20 million thus far. (Additional funding to complete the project is expected to come from the college in the form of donations, internal loans and revenue from extensive logging of a 2,400-acre research forest owned by the college in Columbia County.)
Our hope is that the completed Peavy Hall fulfills the high expectations that have been placed upon it. To that end, it's essential the project's blueprint the rest of the way emphasizes transparency. (mm)