SCHOOL DESIGN: Towards a More ‘Natural’ and ‘Flexible’ Learning Environment Using CLT Construction – wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm Elementary, Vancouver BC

Room: D137-138

Audience: Architects

Call to Action: This presentation covers the full scope of delivery and design of a mass timber elementary school from an owner representative perspective. As a design professional “on the inside”, this experience offered much insight that consultant teams are generally unaware of but that are significant factors for the success of innovative school design. The following guiding considerations offer some ‘take aways’ post conference. The first step one can take is to commit to the re-imagining of schools from an educator and student user perspective, exploring the concepts and ideas found in “Fielding, Nair and Lackney’s – The Language of School Design” as baseline starting point. and I strongly suggest engaging educators before and after new school projects, and balancing this feedback with an understanding of school space planning. A second action item would be to gain a thorough knowledge of CLT construction, in terms of cost effectiveness, ‘best use in design’, and all the technical aspects at the ‘Design Phase’ and throughout ‘Construction’. A third item to explore is the relationship between consultant team, contractor, CLT sub, trades and manufacturer. Building with CLT requires thorough and comprehensive coordination, primarily in the ‘Design Phase’, if a team wants to meet time and budget efficiencies offered by mass timber. The use of an IPD (Integrated Project Delivery) Contract may be considered.

Abstract: In my role as Project Manager at the Vancouver School Board (VSB), and with support from my director and manager, I was able to successfully lead a consultant team to design and deliver the first ‘true CLT’ elementary school in British Columbia; the second in Canada. This undertaking was done incorporating “Fielding, Nair and Lackney’s – Design Patterns for 21st Century Schools” that had been in development at VSB for the past 20 years. The “cherry on top” of the project was a last minute addition of a 110 solar panel array on the roof able to provide up to 25% of the schools electrical needs. This presentation is a description of the journey to land a CLT elementary school project in Vancouver BC from the perspective of a Project Manager with 20 plus years of private sector mass timber design and build experience in service to a public school district. We will be exploring the following considerations enroute to the completion of the school that opened in 2022:

  1. the conditions within the building industry at the time and resulting business case presented;
  2. the pre-planning and research undertaken to confidently undertake a CLT structure;
  3. the ‘Design’ and ‘Budgeting’ process;
  4. Construction overview including ‘Lessons Learned’;
  5. “21 Century Schools” approach applied in the space planning;
  6. a tour of the completed school.

This presentation is a challenge and a starting point to improve upon this pioneering effort, a “how to” and “what was learned” demonstration that approaches the ‘day to day’ challenges of getting a beautiful and inspiring learning environment built within financial constraints and unpredictable market conditions.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Demonstrate a ‘wholistic’ approach to planning, designing, and building a “21st Century School” using mass timber CLT panels. This is presented in a ‘step by step’ process that considers the risks, budget, coordination, construction successes and foibles.
  2. Another theme is specific to owner and consultant team design goals and management of a CLT project to ensure a comprehensive Bidding / Tender project package to contractors.
  3. Following this, the presentation offers ‘real time’ construction “lessons learned” in regards to building with CLT.
  4. A final objective is to show the overlay of “21st Century School Design” as implemented by Vancouver School Board, with the goal of demonstrating a ‘more natural and flexible environment’ in an elementary school using mass timber.
Steven Snyder
Steven Snyder
Principal, Steven Snyder Consulting

Graduated the University of Toronto School of Architecture, (BArch 1991), his career in private practice has primarily encompassed design with mass timber – post and beam construction for 20+ years. Engaged in the role of Project Manager with the Vancouver School Board, he oversaw facility renovations, retrofits, and 4 new elementary schools – 3 of them with 0-4 Childcare Facilities in Vancouver, BC. All the new schools were designed using the concepts and objectives of “21st Century Schools” (Fielding, Nair, & Lackney), and are considered successes by all stakeholders in the school district. Currently, Steven is the principal of ’Steven Snyder Consulting’, providing consultation services for school planning & feasibility studies, design & space planning, and project management related services from project conception to close-out.

Core Competency

Educational Facility Implementation, Project Management/Project Delivery
Has a working understanding of how the following areas impact the facility program: regulations and policies; project delivery methodologies; scheduling; preventative maintenance; life-cycle planning; and systems commissioning.

LearningSCAPES 2024 Conference in Portland, Oregon


Oregon Convention Center
777 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, Portland, OR 97232


October 16-19, 2024


+1 480.391.0840