Work will begin in the next few weeks on the tallest wood building in North America as the winning bidder to construct the long-awaited Wood Innovation and Design Centre was announced Friday.
With the project first announced in the February 2009 throne speech, Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Pat Bell expressed relief at seeing the proposal now so close to going ahead.
"This has obviously been a long road and a hard road for us, but I think the result is going to pay off for many, many decades to come," Bell told a throng of local dignitaries and media who gathered at the Ramada Hotel, across George Street from the construction site.
"Oftentimes, the toughest things in the world are the ones that offer the greatest reward, so it's a great pleasure for me today to see what it's going to look like."
PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc., which built the B.C. Cancer Agency Centre for the North, has been chosen to construct the building, whose cost has been capped at $25.1 million.
Construction will start "towards the end of April," said company vice president Anibal Valente and the project will take 16 months to complete.
The project will require about 350,000 man-hours of work, including offsite labour to fabricate some of the components, and at peak, about 50 local workers will be on the site.
Other than a concrete foundation, the building will be constructed entirely of wood and incorporate species from across B.C., including Douglas fir, cedar, hemlock, pine and spruce.
And while the minimum requirement was about 800 cubic metres of wood, Valente said the final figure will be 2,000 cubic metres or nearly 850,000 board feet.
"So we exceeded the minimum requirement by quite a bit," Valente said.
Once completed, commercial office space will be available and a new masters of engineering in tall wood design program, delivered through the University of Northern British Columbia, will occupy the bottom three floors.
Bell said much thought was also given to making it home to a full-fledged undergraduate program in engineering, given the high interest in the community, but a masters program will produce expertise in building and designing tall wood projects much more quickly.
The provincial government will be working toward a $2.25-milion endowment to fund a "tall wood building construction research chair."
To stand six-storeys or 27.5 metres tall, it was designed by architect Michael Green, known for his award-winning work on the terminal at Prince George Airport, which also primarily incorporates wood.
From the outside, it will look more like seven storeys because the bottom floor is at a double height and with the abundance of large windows, the design provides a distinctly open feel.
"We really wanted to make the ground floor of this building about the community and how when you're walking down the street, you feel like you were drawn inside," Green said. "You could look in the windows, you could see the demonstration of wood use inside the building, the students moving inside the building."
At night, with the building's interior lights on, "the wood will really glow."
The structural engineering is being provided by Equilibrium Consulting Inc. which Green said has experience "pushing the boundaries of big buildings in wood."
The WIDC will be built out of a combination of "mass timber products" that have come into the marketplace over the last five to 10 years and a system to replace what would have been concrete floors with wood ones has been developed.
And should there be a need, more floors can be added up above.
"Some day we expect to be building 30-storey tall buildings of wood, which is a conversation that luckily has really ignited a huge energy about wood buildings around the world and it's a conversation that this building, I think, will become a very important part," Green said.
Inside the main lobby there will be a large demonstration space for wood products and innovation and a large stairway up into a mezzanine that leads into a theatre. And on the second floor there will be some outdoor deck space.
Other features will include areas to showcase new wood products and a wall of woods from across Canada, "that can be shown and touched so you can get a sense of the feel, the texture, the character and colour of the different woods from coast to coast."
And as you get out of the elevator, you'll see a six-storey tall image of a tree progressing up the building's height.
"Certainly this material has great potential to build big buildings and so we thought that story should be told in the lobby and as you get off you'll realize just how big the trees of our province are," Green said.
Green played up the project's environmental benefits, saying it will spare the atmosphere about 2,000 tonnes of carbon compared to if it was built out of concrete, equal to taking about 500 cars off the road in one year.
Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond called it an "historic structure, the first of its kind, and it will be built in a much-needed place in the downtown of Prince George."
Bell said the building "will advance the cause for wood construction not just here in British Columbia and not just across Canada but in fact across the world and will have a meaningful impact for our forest industry as we move into the future." said Bell.
Coun. Dave Wilbur said council members are "excited" about the project.
"It's been longtime coming and we are just thrilled with the design that has just been presented," Wilbur said and credited Bell and Bond for their persistence in bringing the project this far.
UNBC president George Iwama said the building will be well suited to the program's needs.
"It cannot be just a collection of classrooms and office space, because engineers like to be breaking wood and stressing wood and doing that kind of research and that's the kind of person, and no one less, that we want to bring into this space for the benefit of our companies," Iwama said.