Tools of the trade
December 22, 2022

Planning and designing wood schools in British Columbia

School districts across B.C. 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 B.C. 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 B.C. 

Samuel Brighouse Elementary

Explore a wood school in B.C.

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 credit: Andrew Latreille


Interior view of school hallway from second floor railing. Undulated wooden ceiling and top to bottom wood columns across the right side wall.

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 WoodWorks 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 B.C., based on four different framing systems.



Wood school design

Listen to Ray Wolfe of Thinkspace Architecture Planning Interior Design Ltd. 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 credit: Upper Left Photography


Exterior view of school facade with glass windows covering both entrance floors and V shaped mass timber columns supporting the exterior roof at entrance.

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 credit: 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 credit: Sunny Jhooty Photography

Internal daytime view of low rise Wellington Secondary School showing circular open library and research area with students at desks and Glue-laminated timber (Glulam)

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

This report by WoodWorks 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 credit: Krista Jahnke


Interior daytime view of low rise Cordova Bay Elementary School showing wood paneling, ceiling, and accents throughout. Picture taken after seismic upgrades using nail-laminated timber (NLT) and cross-laminated timber (CLT)
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B.C.'s wood suppliers

B.C. 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 panelling, 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 credit: Lubor Trubka Associates Architects


Sunny daytime interior view of Kwakiutl Wagalus School showing extensive use wood, including western red cedar in posts, beams, and cladding, Douglas-fir for doors and windows, birch wood veneer finishes, and a maple hardwood sports floor

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. | Photo credit: Ed White Photographics, courtesy KMBR Architects 


Glue laminated timber beams and columns support the cantilever roof overhang in this exterior view of Gibsons Elementary School as children enter on a sunny day

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 credit: Bright Photography