DARRINGTON — A 94-acre campus for developing cutting-edge timber technology is a go, after Darrington received a $6 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration this week.
The Darrington Wood Innovation Center will bring roughly 150 timber industry jobs to the town. It will also produce enough cross-laminated timber — a material heralded as the future of environmentally sustainable construction — to build 1,000 affordable housing units per year.
The federal grant was the last piece of funding necessary to start construction on the center next door to the Darrington Cemetery, Mayor Dan Rankin said. He started dreaming about the center during the aftermath of the devastating 2014 Oso mudslide.
“This project will (now) move off paper and into reality,” Rankin said.
Rankin worked with county and state officials alongside environmental nonprofit Forterra to develop the project. It will house advanced wood manufacturers and promote education and conservation.
Phase one of the project includes an innovation center, where about 30 acres will host a cross-laminated timber manufacturer (CLT), as well as an adjoining modular construction facility using the in-house CLT to build multifamily housing throughout the region.
CLT, a form of mass timber, is a strong low-carbon alternative to concrete and steel, built by sandwiching multiple solid wood panels together. Used in Europe and in Canada since the 1990s, the technology is mostly new to the United States.
The next phase involves building out an additional 30 acres to include education and wood innovation, although there are no solid plans for how to achieve that yet.
A facility in Spokane produces mass timber, but the Darrington center will be the first in the nation to put the material into modular housing, said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, who has supported development of timber technology.
“This is exactly what we’ve been hoping for on a national scale,” Cantwell said in an interview. “And here’s a rural town in Snohomish County that’s going to pull it off, so we’re so proud of them.”
As county leadership continues to look at building affordable housing, Cantwell said she hopes they’ll marry strategies with the new locally produced timber tech.
Rankin said he hopes to break ground on the project within the next few months.
“There was no slowdown after the sigh of relief that came after the funding announcement,” he said.
Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @sanders_julia.