It’s nice to go to a timber school

In Pudasjärvi in Northern Finland, we built a school campus out of timber. The school has been praised by both pupils and teachers.

The timber school in Pudasjärvi has 720 pupils, but it is not noisy because the timber walls soften the acoustics. There are a lot of timber surfaces, and the large windows open up onto a beautiful view of nature.

The Pudasjärvi school pupils have been using their new campus since August 2016.

According to high school pupil Olga Oinas-Panuma, there is no comparing the new school to the previous one.

"This is from a completely different world. I don't mind going to school in the morning; it's nice to come here. Our motivation is better because the spaces, materials and environment support learning. Both pupils and teachers are inspired."

Eighth-grade pupils Jenna Mattila and Iida Koivukangas enjoy the schoolyard, which promotes exercise. They usually spend their breaks outdoors, and have spent time on the swings and the football field.

"Young people play in the yard in the evenings, too, including myself," says Iida. One evening a week she also goes to the campus for flute theory class.

"I think a good school environment may have an effect on grades."

Jenna also likes the openness of the space and the interior windows. "I don't think I could be in a classroom without windows anymore."

Decreased absences

According to Headmaster Mikko Lumme, the best part of the timber school is the whole package: a safe environment where people enjoy themselves and teachers have the opportunity to develop themselves professionally. Pupils' absences and tardiness have also decreased. The school nurse says the pupils are now less restless and behave more responsibly.

Mikko says that there has not been a single sickness absence due to interior air problems this autumn, although the furniture and walls do have a new surface smell that may bother the most sensitive pupils.

Interior air problems were the reason Pudasjärvi chose timber as the material for the new school campus. In the old school, many suffered from headaches, among other issues.

Juha Holappa, Director of Education and Culture at the City of Pudasjärvi has been involved with the project since 2012 when the city decided to build a new school. A new feature in the school project was the fact that it was realised as a public-private partnership project (PPP model), in which Lemminkäinen is responsible for maintenance and repairs on the building for 25 years.

"Our partnership with Lemminkäinen has functioned wonderfully. The only surprise was that there were no surprises. Usually a project this large is bound to have its hiccups."

A multi-use building

Building a new school provided an opportunity to modernise learning environments. Juha says the new school was designed taking into account the requirements of the new curriculum and ensuring that the spaces could be modified for different uses if necessary. The comprehensive school and high school are in different wings. They are connected by a central hobby, to which the teachers' rooms and specialised classrooms are also attached.

"The learning environment is not ultramodern, but it is suitable for implementing the new curriculum," says Juha.

The world's largest timber school has also generated international interest. According to Mikko's calculations, the campus has welcomed around 2,500 visitors since the summer, including teaching and construction professionals.

"It is clear that municipal decision-makers are tired of renovations due to interior air issues. I expect we will see more schools like this."

Lemminkäinen's Vice President of PPP projects in building construction, Esa Kemppainen says that the combination of design and timber construction in cooperation with Kontiotuote Oy, an international log construction company, was very successful.

"We believe we have a competitive edge for other wood construction projects, too. We are also building a care facility in Pudasjärvi according to this model. This indicates that we have been successful in the eyes of the customer and subcontractors."

Text Pirkko Koivu
Photos Mikko Törmänen

FACTS

  • We built a timber campus in Pudasjärvi using the PPP model. In addition to construction, we are responsible for servicing, maintenance, user services and renovation investments for 25 years.
  • The school can accommodate around 800 students. The campus comprises four buildings that house the primary and secondary schools, a high school, an adult education centre and the school gym.
  • The total floor area of the building is approximately 9,700 square metres.

Pudasjärvi wooden school