WWCOGD (What Would Change Order Group Do): With Katerra’s Spokane, Washington CLT Factory

Last week’s news of construction startup Katerra’s bankruptcy came as no surprise to anyone in the industry, least of all me. I sufficiently expressed my criticisms in this post , a sort of deathbed autopsy, and outlined how the Change Order Group would do things differently, better, and more economically.

While I took a few days to smart in my prescience, let me be clear that the situation sucks. The company, which already went through several rounds of layoffs, will fire its remaining employees. Facilities will be  shuttered, resources liquidated, and projects stopped. With out-of-control lumber prices and an innovation-resistant, climate-denying Capital Market Real Estate culture that’s going long on going short, Katerra’s assets, if not requisitioned and repositioned in a timely manner, could end up mothballed, monuments to investor and technological hubris and deceit.

While I don’t want to claim all of Katerra’s assets, the one I want to ensure does not go the way of the Juicera is their Spokane Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) factory. With the present global climate crisis demanding pathways to carbon-negative construction and mass reforestation, this is not the time to abandon timber construction. It might be the time to take advantage of CapEx arbitrage and coordinate parties and projects to find alternative uses for the factory.

With that in mind, if we were in charge of the CLT factory, here are some ideas the Change Order Group could explore in partnership with relevant parties:

  • Create a Federal, multi-state, or multi-metro coalition for the development of social, affordable, carbon-negative housing. This coalition agrees to a uniform design and as-of-right regulatory framework for no/low-car, transit-friendly, diverse-by-design, kid/senior-friendly, carbon-sinking, timber, Passive House, EcoDistrict-style developments. As far as I know, CLT parts manufactured in Spokane can be flat-packed and shipped cost-effectively to most western states and western Canadian provinces.
  • Subsidize the factory OpEx, initial product and project development (minimal) with affordable housing and Green New Deal funds and private partnerships.
  • Establish public, public-private, and private financing mechanisms and funds exclusively for the type of carbon-sinking developments the factory makes. Due to the significant reduction in embodied and operational carbon inherent in the developments this group is promoting, these funds and their output could be connected to larger institutional decarbonization efforts, ESG goals, and increasingly stringent energy-code compliance.
  • Use the factory as a “mill” for existing climate-friendly architectural projects. Builders could be subsidized for converting from high-embodied carbon to low-carbon construction methods to create price parity. These smaller projects could fill in gaps in factory throughput.
  • Create a resilient/climate/timber building lab. Rather than having one secretive company use the factory, the facility can and should be used as an open-source building lab for product development. Smaller, more cutting edge designers could knowledge-share and be funded by larger industrial, research, and academic institutions.
  • The above lab could be affiliated with local universities or be a standalone MMC trade-school with a timber-made EcoDistrict-style campus and student housing.
  • Create a sustainable forestry (and ideally reforesting) alliance with participating timber companies for a dedicated timber supply and cost-predictability.

The Change Order Group has the marketing, PR/lobbying, financing, research, planning, and AEC resources to pursue all of the above initiatives in earnest. If you’re a city, developer, investor, or organization interested in the above (including, but not limited to those directly involved with Katerra’s Spokane CLT factory), drop us a line via our contact page.

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