August 26, 2019

Wood makes a difference in new six-story office building in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS: Wood makes a difference in new six-story office building in San Antonio
By: Josh Baugh

Walk onto the Soto construction site at the former Cavender Cadillac dealership on Broadway downtown, and you’ll be struck by the unmistakable fragrance of freshly cut wood.

“That’s a common comment,” said Hunter Kingman, development manager for Hixon Properties.

What’s uncommon is that much of the 140,600-square-foot, six-story office building is being constructed of wood — and less of concrete and steel. Proponents of what is called mass timber construction see it as an innovative way to offset greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Not everyone is convinced of its environmental benefit, while much is still unknown about the production methods.

The Soto is the first large-scale mass timber project in Texas and the fourth in the U.S., said John Beauchamp, chief investment officer for Hixon. It’s more common in Europe.

The building will have about 640 cubic meters of wood that can sequester, or hold, more than 540 tons of carbon dioxide.

“It’s the equivalent of taking 290 cars off the road for a year or enough energy to operate 129 homes for a year,” Beauchamp said.

Hixon is aiming to be at the forefront of using mass timber for commercial-scale buildings. It has partnered with the Cavender family on redevelopment of 8½ acres along both sides of Broadway near Eighth.

The Soto, named for the Spanish word for “grove of trees” or “small forest,” is the latest building to use unconventional methods here. Another, the Credit Human headquarters, farther north on Broadway, will be the first commercial building to tap geothermal energy in San Antonio.

The wood for the Soto comes from trees farmed specifically for mass timber production.

“The trees we’re building with, as they grow, they’re taking carbon dioxide out of the air, and then when the tree’s cut at about 10 years old, you build with it and you’ve just sequestered all of that carbon into the building,” Beauchamp said. “Then new trees grow, they take carbon out of the air, they’re cut when they’re young — somebody else builds with them, so you’re sequestering this carbon in your buildings.”

The mass timber method takes 8-foot-long wooden planks and, using dowels and lamination, turns them into massive panels and beams.

At the Soto, the panels for the floor and ceiling decks are each 8 feet by 60 feet and weigh 10,000 pounds. They’re made of spruce, pine and fir and stained with a golden hue that shows the grain patterns.

The massive interior beams are made of spruce, and the exterior beams are larch from Austria.

The trees used in the Soto project were grown and custom-fabricated in Canada and Austria, then shipped to San Antonio.