Vilsack highlights ‘mass timber’ to use small cut trees for wildfire prevention
West Des Moines, Ia. — The federal government plans to remove kindling from about 75 million acres of land over the next decade — which includes thinning smaller diameter trees from forests — to help prevent wildfires that have become more frequent and destructive in the western states.
This poses a problem: “What do you do with all that wood? asked US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
On Friday, he was standing in part of the answer: a three-story apartment building in West Des Moines’ Valley Junction business district that’s being built with what’s called “mass timber.”
The building – dubbed the Junction Development Catalyst project – is supported by massive columns and wooden beams made of smaller planks that are sandwiched and glued together.
Some of the upper level flooring is also made of laminated plywood in the same way.
When the building is completed this fall, it will house a mix of commercial and residential space, with 11 apartments. Construction began in February. It is expected to be Iowa’s first log building with residential space.
The state’s first mass timber building is in Des Moines’ East Village, according to the Des Moines register. There are about 1,400 hardwood projects already built or being designed in the United States, according to WoodWorks, a national nonprofit group that tracks projects.
“It’s the future of buildings, in some ways,” said Daniel Willrich, director of architecture for Pelds Design Services, the Des Moines firm that designed the building.
The wooden support structure is not as strong as steel, but it is strong enough to support a building over 10 stories high. Additionally, buildings take less time to construct because the solid wood pieces are made to custom specifications and have built-in connectors.
“It goes up pretty quickly because it looks like a big puzzle,” Willrich said.
The beams are designed to be stronger than needed to support the structure so they won’t fail if the building catches fire, he said.
The $1.8 million project is the work of Cutler Development, which has undertaken several renovations and construction of new buildings in Valley Junction in recent years, according to its website. This is the first mass timber project for the company, which plans to build lofts on Ingersoll Avenue using the same construction method.
“We think it’s a better way to build buildings,” said Scott Cutler, who operates the development company with his wife Molly.
The project is funded, in part, with approximately $243,000 in federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wood Innovations Grants program, which was launched in 2015 with the goal of utilizing forest remnants. to create new products or to use them as fuel.
The purpose of Vilsack’s visit to Valley Junction on Friday was to announce $32 million in new funding for this grant program and a companion program with similar goals. He said Cutlers’ Ingersoll project is on track to secure about $250,000 of this funding.