The Rewards of Reclaimation

The Portola Valley Town Center Boasts Ceilings Built of Wood Taken From Structures Previously On Site

Portola Valley, CA, has a proud heritage of preserving the environment. Its Architectural & Site Control Commission (ASCC) urges developers to build earthfriendly, sustainable structures and has a checklist of 75 "green" criteria for them to meet. The town has more natural pathways than it does roads — 37 miles of trails versus 34 miles of paved roadway. "We want development to conform to the general principles of sustainable design set by our community," says George Comstock, a Portola Valley resident and a former mayor, councilman and ASCC member. "Our philosophy is to maintain the environment."

So, it's no wonder the buzz is big over Portola Valley's new buildings. The Portola Valley Town Center reclaimed more than 90 percent of the materials from structures formerly occupying the site. Concrete block and slab was ground up and used for road base and new concrete aggregate. Hem-Fir beams and studs were saved, re-milled and used in 6,000 square feet of ceilings.

The architects have applied for Platinum Certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Green Building Rating System™. They expect no less than Gold Certification.

Blue Sky ViewsM

The Portola Valley Town Center — a library, community hall, administrative center and maintenance center — totals 23,000 square feet. Comstock says it cost $18.5 million to build, which was $1.5 million under budget.

The general contractor, TBI Construction & Construction Management, Inc., San Jose, CA, arranged to re-mill the reclaimed wood. The San Jose, CA, office of Pinnacle Distribution, a Division of L&W Supply Corporation, worked with the architect on size and trucked material from the jobsite to 9Wood, Inc., Springfield, OR, which manufactured the ceilings.

The design team included Siegel & Strain Architects, an Emeryville, CA-based firm and award-winner on many green projects. "We were going for this comfortable, yet rustic character," says Susi Marzuola, AIA, Principle, Siegel & Strain, speaking of the interior design. "It doesn't have this brand new feeling, but a feeling of being well-loved and well cared for."

Light in tone, the ceilings reflect daylight inside the buildings and aesthetically tie together the interior with the exterior. "They blend with the stained plywood soffits just outside the windows and beyond," Marzuola says, "to blue skies, hillsides and views of redwoods."

Some in the community aimed for a pickled finish to the slat wood panels. Others pushed for a light-colored stain. "We were trying to get reflectivity off these panels," says Marzuola. "But aesthetically, we didn't want them painted white. We wanted to see the wood grain."

Attachment Issues

To present options, 9Wood built mock-ups to help the architects and the community settle upon a stain. They also helped resolve a key issue of how to attach the slat ceilings. The issue was brought up early in the designbuild process. "I asked the general contractor, 'How are you going to access the plenum if you nail this thing up?'" says Jim Ratzlaff, Acoustical Products Manager, Pinnacle Distribution, San Jose, CA. "That's when he put me in contact with the architect, and we went on to develop 9Wood's panelized linear ceiling."

The design is straightforward. Panel slats secure to crosspiece backers. The backers attach to the suspension grid. Since fasteners could not be visible, the installers drove screws from the back of the grid to the backers. Trim pieces attach with the same technique.

Was there enough reclaimed wood for the job? "The overall quantity was not necessarily an issue," Ratzlaff says. "What was an issue was the length structure of the raw material. The panels had to be in such increments that they'd provide a monolithic ceiling."

Building narrow-width panels was the solution. "The backs of the slats are 2' on center," says Ratzlaff. "Panel joints had to be hidden behind the battens, which is why length was important." In the end, most panels were 1' or 2' in width and from 4' to 12' in length.

Changing the Industry

"They ended up with a ceiling that looks very finished," says Ratzlaff. "That's one of the things that surprised me the most — how finished it looks given that it's all reclaimed wood."

As more people realize how great-looking reclaimed wood ceilings can be, such ceilings will grow in appeal. With the added benefit of sustainability, reclaimed systems appear to be changing the construction industry. ."Using reclaimed materials calls for more dynamic forms of communication," says Michael Roemen, Assistant Sales Manager, 9Wood. "You have to coordinate on the design because you only have one shot at it. You have to be sure that you have enough material."

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