A new residential hall being built at a Bar Harbor college is using a wooden structural design that is becoming more popular because of its environmental benefits, though the manufacture of such wood products has yet to catch on in Maine.
College of the Atlantic, a school with roughly 350 students that focuses on the environment and sustainability, plans to have 46 more student beds on campus when the project is completed this fall, COA President Darron Collins said Monday.
Not only will the three-story building help provide more on-campus housing to students in a town where housing costs have soared, it will help reduce the school’s carbon footprint, Collins said. It also will showcase emerging technology that could help boost Maine’s historic forest products industry.
“It’s all wood,” Collins said, referring to the building’s laminated structural components and its insulation. “There are bits of steel and glass, obviously, but essentially it is a wooden building.”
Collins said the process of fabricating the structural wooden components being used in the building produces far less carbon — which scientists say is a major driver of global climate change — than the process of manufacturing steel beams and columns.
The wooden beams and columns being erected in the COA building were manufactured in and transported from Austria, but even when factoring in the trans-Atlantic shipping, their carbon impact is much smaller than that of traditional steel, he said.
There have been efforts to develop laminate wood manufacturing sites in the state, including federally funded research at University of Maine. In 2019, a North Carolina firm announced plans to develop a laminate timber manufacturing site in Lincoln, but has yet to follow through.
Collins said there is a Maine connection with one of the materials being used in the building. The wood-based loose insulation that is being blown into the building was made at the GO Lab plant in Madison.
The potential to develop a laminated timber industry in Maine, “is something as a state that we really can lean into,” Collins said.
Buildings elsewhere in Maine that have used laminated timber technology in recent years include an affordable housing project in Portland and two academic buildings at Bowdoin College.
Collins said the new residential hall at COA will be built to minimize heat loss from the building, which will keep its heating costs low, and will have solar panels on its roof.
The school, which has capped enrollment at the equivalent of 350 full-time students, has roughly doubled the amount of student housing it owns in the past five years, Collins said.
When the new residential hall is complete, COA will have guaranteed housing for roughly 300 students. The school does not guarantee housing for all students because some, including many who are older than typical college age, don’t want to live in college housing, he said.