FAYETTEVILLE — The state fire marshal has signed off on the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville moving forward with what’s considered the first U.S. campus housing units to be built using large, prefabricated wood panels known as cross-laminated timber.
Site work began near the beginning of September for the Stadium Drive residence halls, two five-story halls connected by a ground-level common area. The 202,000-square-foot complex’s main structural elements will be glue-laminated beams and large panels of wood from a European supplier.
University leaders have said the project can possibly boost the state’s timber industry if the construction method catches on widely.
The halls are expected to have an occupancy of 710 students and open by August 2019, with an estimated project cost of $79 million that includes design, construction and other expenses. Using cross-laminated timber is adding roughly $2 million to construction costs, Daniel Clairmont, UA’s director of engineering and construction, said in an email Friday.
A Feb. 7 letter from state Fire Marshal Lindsey Williams to Fayetteville’s modus studio, one of three architecture firms working on the complex, granted project approval based on design plans. Other architecture firms involved are Leers Weinzapfel Associates of Boston and Mackey Mitchell Architects of St. Louis.
“We’re strictly looking at this from a life-safety standpoint,” Williams said in a phone interview. He explained that the review by the fire marshal’s office involves making sure plans for a building are in compliance with the state Fire Prevention Code. He said the code is updated about every six years and currently is based on codes published in 2012 by the International Code Council.
Requirements for any project like a large residence hall, considered “residential occupancies,” call for sprinklers to be installed, he added.
“While it may not be the most common type of construction, it does conform to requirements in the building code,” Williams said of the residence halls. He added that there were “no requests made to us for any special allowances for that method of construction,” referring to the cross-laminated timber and glue-laminated beams.
Experts who work with cross-laminated timber say it is safe and point to its use in Europe and elsewhere. Only a few large-scale cross-laminated timber housing projects have been announced in the U.S., including an 11-story high-rise planned in Portland, Ore. U.S. researchers are conducting federally funded studies on how cross-laminated timber withstands disasters such as earthquakes and fire.
Cross-laminated timber has layers of dried lumber boards, often glued together to form huge solid panels. In October, architect Chris Baribeau, a modus architect working on the Stadium Drive project, said panels used for the residence hall will be about 8 feet wide and 40 feet long.
Peter MacKeith, UA’s architecture dean, in October called the project “aspirational and inspirational,” showing the potential “of the state to be a leader in the rapidly emerging technology.”
The residence halls will be the second UA project built using cross-laminated timber, with construction ongoing for a library storage facility away from the main campus.
Documents released by the Arkansas State Police under the state’s public disclosure law show communication between fire safety officials and modus architect Baribeau about design plans, including whether sprinklers would be required for some “concealed spaces.”
The reference was to “concealed ceiling spaces in the hallways,” said UA’s Clairmont, explaining that the spaces house part of a building’s plumbing, electrical and air duct systems.
Clairmont described how the “concealed spaces” discussion related to cross-laminated timber, sometimes referred to as CLT.
“Since the floors are CLT (wood), there was discussion that the wood is a combustible material and, therefore, sprinklers would be required above the ceilings,” Clairmont said.
But after reviewing code requirements and discussions with the architect, “there was agreement that sheetrock would be applied to cover the CLT in the ceiling spaces in the hallway,” Clairmont said. “Sheetrock is considered a non-combustible material.”
A Jan. 16 message from architect Baribeau to the state fire marshal’s office stated that “the concealed spaces are no longer combustible as they are of type X gypsum board and therefore the concealed space should not be required to be sprinklered.”
The Feb. 7 letter from Williams notes compliance with National Fire Protection Association standards for such “concealed spaces.”
The estimated $79 million project is being paid for mostly through the issuance of bonds. The budget includes $74 million from bonds and $2 million from a university operating fund used for upkeep of campus utility systems, Clairmont said.
Clairmont said the university also aims to raise $3 million in private gifts to support the project.
Recent housing construction at other schools showed differences in “project costs,” as defined by various schools.
The University of Kansas spent $47.8 million for a 700-occupancy residence hall that opened in August 2015, spokesman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said in an email.
The university, in an online description, stated the project cost included construction and the demolition of a building at the site.
Clairmont said UA’s definition of “project cost” includes design costs, commissioning, fees and other expenses. Total costs for typical projects are approximately 25 percent more than construction costs, Clairmont said.
He said several years difference in the UA and Kansas projects matter because construction costs in Northwest Arkansas generally are rising, he said.
Other factors related to UA’s project cost include how the site, near Bud Walton Arena, was not level.
“The sitework for our project alone was $4.7M,” Clairmont wrote.
Other schools, responding to questions from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about “project costs” for recently built student housing, provided a range of costs. The University of Oklahoma spent $96 million to build two residential colleges that opened in the fall and, combined, house 640 students, spokesman Rowdy Gilbert said in an email.
The University of Missouri spent $68 million to build two halls housing 572 students, with the two adjacent halls opening in 2016 and 2017, spokesman Karlan Seville said in an email.
The rate that will be charged to students living in the Stadium Drive residence halls will be “in the same price range” as current campus dormitories such as Maple Hill and the Northwest Quad, UA spokesman Christopher Spencer said in an email. Most rooms in the new residency will be double-occupancy, he said, with a majority configured in two-person suites.
Double-occupancy rooms in Maple Hill cost $8,289 for the 2017-18 academic year. Single rooms in the Northwest Quad are $8,272 per year.
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