Justifications for timber dorm don't hold up

Posted: November 2, 2017 at 1 a.m.

I was shocked to read in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Oct. 23 article about a University of Arkansas dorm to be built of timber.

According to the article, this timber framing system will cost $1.3 million more than alternative methods of steel/concrete or concrete framing of the structure. The article then proceeded to justify this decision with more than one-half page of hog-wash trying to explain their decision. In this article, they try to explain the following:

1. "UA officials describe it as a way to possibly boost the state's timber industry". Then they say "no Arkansas wood will be used in the main structural components" and surprisingly the low bidder was an European supplier. So much for "made in USA," let alone Arkansas?

2. Fire Safety: The article says "safety of cross-laminated timber in a fire is not unanimously agreed to be as good as concrete and steel. [An interviewed professor said] "construction of steel and concrete typically don't contribute to the fuel of the fire" and "With cross-laminated timber, the actual building itself becomes part of the fuel for the fire".

I was involved in the commercial construction industry for approximately 40 years and we constructed many "stick buildings," which were three stories or less. Most of the buildings above three stories in height, their structural frames were either concrete framed or combination of steel framed/concrete. This five-story building, being a "dorm" with such high degree of occupancy (students), would worry me about the safety issue in the event of a tragedy like a fire. I do not understand the reason behind this decision, as to not only why one would spend more money, but "perhaps" add a safety risk due to this type of design.

Is $1.3 million pocket change for UA? Perhaps $1.3 million might have a better use, say "lower tuition costs."

As a parent or grandparent, if I had a child about to enter college, how would I feel about the safety of a "timber dorm" vs "steel/concrete dorm?" Maybe it is just me, but I would tell my child, steel/concrete dorm or different college.

Chris Bolton

Bella Vista

Commentary on 11/02/2017