British Columbia

B.C. mill bucks trend with expansion amid downturn in forest industry

At a time when many forestry companies in B.C. are laying off, curtailing mills or shutting them down altogether the Kalesnikoffs are investing $35 million in a new mill and hiring.

Castlegar-area mill investing $35 million to make mass timber, which is in-demand for construction

Chris and Krystle Kalesnikoff in their new mass timber mill between Nelson and Castlegar. (Bob Keating/CBC)

Chris Kalesnikoff strides through his mill under construction between Castlegar and Nelson as workers install machinery arriving from all over the world.

The mill is bright, huge and a big gamble for the Kalesnikoffs.

"The building is 110,000 square feet, the size of two football fields," said Kalesnikoff. "It's a big investment for our company and our family."

At a time when many forestry companies in B.C. are laying off, curtailing mills or shutting them down altogether, the Kalesnikoffs are bucking the trend and hiring.

"We're already forecasting a very busy 2020 and an even busier 2021."

Replacing steel

The Kalesnikoffs already run a sawmill and remanufacturing plant here that employs 150 people and now are building a $35-million mass timber plant.

Mass timber is used in buildings in which the primary load-bearing structure is often made of solid or engineered wood  — essentially, wooden highrises.

The Kalesnikoff mass timber plant will produce large, thick laminated wood panels and beams that can be used to replace steel and concrete.

"There's really less than a half dozen current manufacturers of mass timber in North America and to have a product really take off you have to have an accessible supply," said Kalesnikoff.

Tallest wood building in North America

There is already a B.C. showpiece for what mass timber can do: the tallest wood building in North America sits on the campus of UBC.

The Brock Commons student residence at UBC is 18 storeys and was completed in 2017.

UBC got a site-specific code exemption to get it built.

The only concrete used was for the lower floors and elevator shafts.

Brock Commons Tallwood House at UBC is the tallest wood building in North America (Steven Errico Photography/UBC)

"It was a first-of-its-kind project in the world," says lead architect Russell Acton.  "The wood structure which included the prefabricated facade went up in nine weeks."

After it was finished, the province announced it was changing the building code to allow 12-storey wood buildings, up from the previous limit of six.

"The two big industries in Canada are forestry and construction and mass timber really brings those together," said Angelique Pilon, the director of innovation at UBC's Sustainability Initiative. "We were able to use regional material, support regional industry and really push innovation."

The Kalesnikoffs provided some of the raw wood used in Brock Commons but it was processed by Structurlam, a company based in Penticton.

Tallwood Commons under construction at UBC in June 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Hiring 50 new workers

With the new mill they will go from raw log to the finished product used in building high rises, at one site, which is why they are hiring 50 people while others are laying off.

The new mill will be the most technologically advanced mass timber producer in North America according to Kalesnikoff's Chief Financial Officer Krystle Seed Kalesnikoff.

"There is a lot of excitement out there about this product," she said. "Yes, it is a risk we are taking as a family because it is something we really believe in."

The Kalesnikoffs hope to have their new mill in operation early in the New Year.

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