Academic researcher and consultant Alex Boston. (Photo submitted)

Quesnel stands up for mass-timber

Stamp of approval for UBCM resolution to improve wood industry

A forestry researcher and consultant turned to Quesnel to be his champion of the mass-timber sector.

After working for years on the topic, Alex Boston crafted a resolution for the Union of BC Municipalities convention this autumn to kick the mass-timber game up a notch, in order to meet the construction needs of B.C. He knew from past experiences here that Quesnel was perhaps B.C.’s epicentre for wood manufacturing and would understand.

The gist of the resolution was how these cutting-edge wood products should be a provincial government priority, since they could build bigger, stronger and faster than conventional lumber, much of it in a factory so components can be shipped to the building site and quickly assembled.

Right now, with wood and workers hard to find, mass-timber could be a solution to ballooning expenses and long waits for schools, hospitals, housing, and more.

“We are only just starting to realize the gravity of this labour force construction constraint,” said Boston. “Over the next 10 years we have an estimated 38,000 retirees in the construction labour force, and we are only going to attract hopefully 20,000 at most. It will leave us with about a 20,000-person shortfall.”

Mayor Ron Paull said, “This is an exciting time for exactly what you’re talking about, both from the housing end and from the construction end. It isn’t a secret that Quesnel has a good raw timber land-base, we’ve got a skilled workforce, we have vacant industrial infrastructure, we have excellent rail, highway and even air capabilities for transporation connections, we are centrally located in the province…I think the economic climate is perfect for this type of initiative.”

Councillor Martin Runge wondered about municipalities cooperating on designs so when the engineering was approved for a particular kind of mass-timber building, that it could be shared throughout the province.

“You will note in the resolution that is one of the requests – to facilitate shared actions by different municipalities to share pre-approved designs,” said Boston. “Can we get (multiple jurisdictions) to adopt a design, potentially get provincial government support to run these design competitions, work with off-site building manufacturers like Sinclar-Winton up the road in Prince George or this new project talked about for (Williams Lake), or a potential developer in Quesnel?…We need to pool our resources.”

Runge worried out loud about existing builders being unintentionally victimized by a resolution that might accidentally cost them jobs.

Boston responded that “there will never be a home builder that is displaced. The demand is just simply too high,” and added that since the policy framework has not yet been written, existing builders would be part of the process.

Mayor and council voted in favour.

(Editor’s not: since initial publication, two more municipalities, Vancouver and Courtenay, have also voted to support this resolution at the UBCM convention.)

You can read the entire resolution in the online version of this story.

The resolution in full:

UBCM Resolution: B.C. Affordable, Net Zero, Offsite Wood Housing Industrial Development

Whereas B.C. has yet to develop an effective strategy to address the biggest constraint on new housing supply––our shrinking construction labour force––and offsite wood frame and mass timber construction has potential to deliver improvements of up to 50% labour productivity, 50% construction time and 20% cost savings, net zero and low embodied carbon construction and secure jobs in forest dependent and Indigenous communities.

Whereas the greatest barrier to expanding offsite construction is insufficient market demand from public and private project developers unfamiliar with this novel approach and there are hundreds of strategically located, public land parcels with underutilized land that can be used to cost effectively build affordable housing and grow a predictable pipeline of projects to mobilize investment in manufacturing plant expansion.

Therefore be it resolved that UBCM calls on the Government of B.C. to collaborate with diverse sectors to establish a B.C.-based Offsite Wood Construction Industrial Policy Framework and steadily grow demand and capacity by working with interested public sector organizations to use offsite construction to build, permanently affordable, zero carbon housing on underutilized public land close to jobs and services.

And be it further resolved that UBCM works with the BC Government to develop an Affordable Housing Offsite Wood Construction Early Adopter Program with voluntary municipal actions that aggregate demand like pre-approved designs, zoning and permits for different housing types; and voluntary actions for other sectors like developers, builders, school boards, health authorities and forestry companies.

READ MORE: B.C. forest industry looks to get out of the woods amid meetings with government leaders

READ MORE: Forestry think tank in Quesnel explores the possibilitrees



Quesnel councillor Martin Runge. (Photo submitted)

Quesnel mayor Ron Paull (Frank Peebles photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

Quesnel mayor Ron Paull (Frank Peebles photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)