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DNR plans to replace Newberry facilities with state-of-the-art mass-timber building

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources will use mass timber – an innovative technology to build large buildings from wood – to construct a $5 million facility in Newberry.

The new building, still in the design stages, will house both the DNR’s customer service center and field offices in Newberry, in the eastern Upper Peninsula. Current facilities are outdated. The new building will include about 10,000 square feet of office space, 16,500 square feet of garage space and a community room that will be available for public use. Funding was approved when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the fiscal year 2021 budget last week.

“We are excited to be on the cutting edge of this new technology to build a facility the public can use and enjoy,” said Shannon Lott, DNR deputy director.

Lott has played a critical role on the DNR’s mass-timber team, which co-sponsored a statewide summit about mass timber with the Michigan Forest Biomaterials Institute.

Mass timber can substitute for concrete and steel, and is sustainable. It is a construction system that uses large solid or engineered wood columns, beams and panels to create multistory buildings from renewable materials. The construction technique is becoming more common in areas such as the Pacific Northwest and parts of Europe but is new to the Midwest. Construction is typically faster than traditional concrete-and-steel building because components are manufactured off-site and delivered just-in-time for installation.

“Michigan has 20 million acres of forest land and a growing forest products industry worth over $20 billion,” Lott said. “This building will help showcase both of these Michigan assets.”

Unlike steel and concrete, the wood used in mass-timber buildings helps take carbon out of the atmosphere. As trees grow, they absorb carbon from the air and sequester it for long periods of time. The carbon benefit remains even after a tree is converted to wood.

DNR-managed forests, covering nearly 4 million acres, are certified as sustainable by two independent organizations.

The new Newberry building is planned on the same site as the existing DNR field office, on M-123 about 1.5 miles north of M-28.

Design of the building had begun before COVID-19 caused a halt in many projects this spring, said Dave Graham, a program manager with the DNR’s Finance and Operations Division who is on the team developing the project.

“We’re looking toward the end of the year. We’ll be nailing down the design and getting a better idea of the costs and the timeline,” he said.

The Newberry building is one of a few mass-timber projects in the works in Michigan. Michigan State University is nearing completion of its new STEM Teaching and Learning Facility, which created a 117,000-square-foot building out of the old Shaw Lane power plant with multistory mass timber additions. Michigan Technological University is planning a mass-timber complex to serve its engineering and health technology programs.

Watch this MSU video to learn more about how mass timber works.

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