PASADENA, TEXAS —San Jacinto College celebrated the Anderson-Ball Classroom Building’s grand opening on August 16th. It is the largest mass timber academic building on a college campus in the United States. The new building was completed this spring and houses three floors of educational spaces supporting mathematics, engineering, College Prep, and early high school learning. At 122,240-sf, it is constructed entirely out of mass timber, except for steel bracing used for lateral support, and it is one of the first mass timber buildings in the Greater Houston Area. Kirksey Architecture designed the project, and Tellepsen Builders led the construction. 

“What’s great about San Jac is that they really embraced sustainability with this building,” remarked Michelle Old, the project’s senior designer. “Our goal was to make the wood visible everywhere — we wanted people to know this is the building’s bones, there is something pure about it.” 

The new facility reuses portions of the 1950's era classroom buildings it replaced, like the existing foundations, bas relief panel, and exterior marble. Graphic bronze plaques mark the site to honor the demolished buildings' history, and a new lobby connects the facility to the existing Davison building, creating a signature entrance. The brick exterior is inspired by the legacy buildings and existing campus aesthetic.  

Mass timber is an alternative to reinforced concrete and steel construction and uses smaller lumber components to create large solid wood frames and sections. Mass timber also uses smaller trees more efficiently, creating a more sustainable process and a more enduring, fire-resistant lumber. Mass timber construction systems offer numerous benefits, including faster, quieter construction and cost stability. The entire mass timber structure with prefabricated connections took 14 weeks to complete. Environmentally beneficial outcomes like biophilia and carbon storage also make the system an attractive option. San Jacinto College evaluated all construction options at the onset of this project and elected to go with mass timber,” says Steve Durham, Kirksey’s Director of Collegiate Projects, “Mass timber offers environmental sustainability and cost stability, which aligns with their resource-conscious and forward-thinking values.”

Additional sustainable features of the building include:
  • a facility with less than half the embodied carbon of a standard academic building
  • a gray water collection system that captures the building and condensate water delivering it to the campus central plant to offset make-up water requirements
  • 990 rooftop-mounted solar panels, which contribute most of the building's electricity
  • multiple tubular daylighting units that bring desirable natural daylight into the corridor and administration areas at the building's upper levels
  • a lighter foundation system because wood is five times lighter than concrete and 15 times lighter than steel, which also allowed for the reuse of existing concrete piers
  • a reduction in deforestation by utilizing managed forests for timber supply
  • a manufacturing process that requires significantly less energy than typical construction systems
  • utilizing wood because it has a comfortable surface temperature and the ability to compensate for rapid fluctuations in temperature and humidity
  • manufactured mass timber components that were shipped to a central location in Houston by train, then delivered to the construction site by truck to further reduce the project's carbon footprint
  • utilizing structural components fabricated from black spruce from northern Canada, which is a renewable resource and Forest Stewardship Council certified

The new facility includes instructional classrooms, a robotics lab, and a lecture hall with various academic support spaces for faculty. It consists of formal and informal student gathering spaces and traditionally under-utilized niches and corridor areas that students can use as impromptu study and hang-out spaces instead of leaving campus. The building has a large event area for socially-distanced presentations and a dramatic two-story lobby wrapped in warm black spruce wood panels for college-wide events. The design of these community spaces emphasizes the mass timber structure and puts its beauty on display.

The Kirksey team continues to showcase and promote mass timber construction benefits to clients, industry professionals, and contractors across market sectors for both public and private clients. Kirksey experts successfully assisted two Texas higher education institutions (San Jacinto College and Stephen F. Austin State University) in submitting grant applications to the Mass Timber University Grant Program through the USDA Forest Service, which has awarded nearly a million dollars to ten institutions across the US to study the benefits of utilizing mass timber.

See the San Jacinto College, Anderson-Ball Classroom Building project spotlight here
Kirksey is a sustainable architecture and interior design firm with more than 38 million sf of LEED projects in their portfolio. With offices in Houston, Austin, and Dallas Texas, Kirksey is team-based in structure and serves Commercial, Collegiate, Community, pK-12, Government, Healthcare, Hospitality, Science & Technology, and Multifamily Residential markets. To learn more about the firm, visit