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California Competition To Select Demonstration Mass-Timber Projects

California projects that use mass-timber products and can be replicated elsewhere could be eligible for state grants under a new competition launched this month and taking applications through March 18.

Oregon State University testing cross-laminated timber

The California Government Operations Agency plans to award $500K in grants to at least two project teams through the California Mass Timber Building Competition. The idea is to recognize projects that create viable mass-timber construction that can be repeated for commercial, institutional, industrial, mixed-use or affordable multifamily projects, according to the agency. The competition, hosted by the agency, will be administered by WoodWorks - Wood Products Council.

“California continues to lead the way in sustainability efforts by finding innovative ways to use natural resources,” Deputy Secretary for Sustainability Matt Henigan said in a statement. “This competition will foster forest health and new construction technology in ways that benefit all Californians.”

Eligible applicants are real estate developers, institutions and corporations or legal organizations along with design and construction team partners. The minimum project size is 10K SF, though preference will be given to projects with more than 100K SF or that are higher than six stories.

The competition is intended to showcase the architectural and commercial viability of advanced mass timber products in construction, such as cross-laminated timber, nail-laminated timber, glue-laminated timber, dowel-laminated timber and mass plywood panels.

"Demonstration projects are needed in California to familiarize local permitting and approval agencies, design practitioners, developers and construction contractors as to the viability of these products," the agency said.

Cross-laminated timber, for example, is seen as one solution to rising labor and construction costs. It has become popular in Europe in the past two decades and a use of diseased timber in the Pacific Northwest. It is now being explored for high-rise construction — the nation's first all-wood high-rise was approved in Portland's Pearl District, though the project is now on hold.

While California is the largest consumer of engineered wood products west of the Mississippi, almost none of those products are produced in the state, according to the agency. With more demand for buildings constructed with mass timber, there could be more investor interest in producing such products in California.

The agency argues that such demand could create a market for smaller trees and damaged and diseased trees that could help with the state's forestry management and could potentially reduce wildfire risk. (The competition was announced the day before the Camp Fire wildfire started and the management of the state's forests became a political debate.)

"Putting wood generated from forest management projects to use as building materials reduces the cost of such forest management projects and makes it possible to reduce hazardous fuel loads on more acres of the state’s forested landscape," the agency said.

Selected projects are scheduled to be announced around May 22.