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Plans for engineered timber fire station show material is not a safety risk

L to R - Hyne Timbers Shane Robertson, Qld Treasurer Curtis Pitt, Maryborough MP Bruce Saunders, Hyne Timbers James Hyne and Chris Hyne at the Maryborough Fire Station. Image courtesy of Queensland Treasury.

If you needed proof that timber buildings could provide fire safety comparable to typical construction, look no further than Maryborough in Queensland, which is set to break new ground in the use of engineered timber for an overhaul of its 1950s heritage fire station.

The project involves some of the leading innovators in the space, including Hyne Timber, XLam, Hutchinson Builders, Baber Studio and the University of Queensland’s Centre for Future Timber Structures (CFTS).

Queensland treasurer Curtis Pitt has given the project team’s market-led proposal the green light to proceed to stage two, comprising the detailed design proposal. This will involve working directly with the client, the Maryborough Fire and Emergency Service, to establish a precise brief for the new facility.

The concept has been driven from the outset by industry, Hyne Timber strategic relations manager Katie Fowden said.

“From an idea initially mentioned during an innovation forum in Maryborough, every conversation since with various stakeholders, including fire engineering experts, has seen nothing but support and encouragement to drive this project forward,” Ms Fowden said.

“There are so many sustainable, environmental, structural, aesthetic, safety, health and cost benefits to using timber products in contemporary construction, which this project will help to further showcase.”

She said since the idea was first mooted, it has received extensive support, including from fire safety and engineering experts.

Dr Cristian Maluk, lecturer of structural fire safety engineering at UQ, said mass timber construction could have the same or better reaction to fire as concrete and steel constructions. This is why its use for the Maryborough Fire Station and Emergency Response Centre is supported.

“Design solutions including engineered timber products have demonstrated to be fire safe and viable,” Dr Maluk said.

“The market for timber buildings is expected to imminently grow following the fire safety engineering developments used for the design of timber structures.”

International reports on fire have shown that design solutions such as fire-protected timber, the use of cavity barriers and automated sprinkler systems can result in buildings that are as safe or safer than conventional structures.

The timber for the project is expected to be sourced locally. This is in keeping with the intent behind the Fraser Coast Regional Council’s recently adopted Wood Encouragement Policy.

Hyne Timber already produces glulam from timber harvested in the region, and this is expected to be supplied to the project.

Ms Fowden said Hyne has also made a deal with XLam’s new Wodonga plant to freight plantation pine timber from the Maryborough area down to the plant, with the CLT produced to be used in the project.

Timber Queensland chief executive Mick Stephens said the use of engineered wood products reflected their structural integrity and increasing scope for a broad range of building applications.

The fact the project is a fire station also promotes the fire safety credentials of modern timber buildings and fire safety design, he said.

“Timber is also renewable and has a far lower carbon footprint compared to other materials such as steel and concrete, which require high energy inputs to produce.

“This will be an important project to showcase the fire safety and sustainable building outcomes of timber, as well as the growing potential for timber products to be used in important infrastructure.”

Hyne has been a research partner with the UQ CFTS for the past five years. Ms Fowden said that without the types of existing research partnerships, innovative engineered timber solutions such as the Maryborough proposal would not be possible.

CFTS deputy director Dr Dilum Fernando said it was a significant opportunity to drive an increase in timber-based construction.

He said it was also important to see the research aims of the CFTS achieve tangible benefits for the broader community.

“This is what we can uniquely contribute through the Maryborough Fire Station and Emergency Response Centre project, and we look forward to the journey ahead.”

The project is expected to provide a case study for Construction Skills Queensland so that construction training is relevant for the increasing demand for sustainable, naturally built environments.

The next stage of the proposal could take up to 12 months to complete, engaging with a broad range of stakeholders with construction scheduled to start in 2018-19.

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