It’s hard to miss. Whether you’re traveling to Clemson University’s main campus on Highway 93 from Seneca or driving across the bridge on the same road in the opposite direction, a distinctive construction project catches your eye for a few seconds.

And then a question probably pops in your head: what exactly is that?

Resembling more of a large cabin than a traditional university facility, the new Outdoor Education Center on the grounds of the Snow Family Outdoor Fitness and Wellness Center will soon add a unique flavor to an area best known to Clemson of the past as Y Beach. Slated to open later this fall, the project will add 16,000 square feet of dedicated outdoor recreation space and include a pair of academic classrooms, boat and equipment storage, adventure trip rentals and a covered outdoor patio overlooking Lake Hartwell.

When completed, the center will serve as the new home for Clemson Outdoor Recreation Education — affectionately known as CORE — and will be open to anyone owning a Campus Recreation membership.

“We think we have the best outdoor recreation program in the country, and it deserves a home that suits that title,” said Chris Fiocchi, senior director of Campus Recreation. “We want this facility to be a destination on campus.”

The new Outdoor Education Center, located at the Snow Family Outdoor Fitness and Wellness Center, features a unique blend of steel beams and southern yellow pine cross-laminated timber.

The new Outdoor Education Center, located at the Snow Family Outdoor Fitness and Wellness Center, features a unique blend of steel beams and southern yellow pine cross-laminated timber in its construction.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

The best example of the center’s unique design comes from the application of cross-laminated timber (CLT) on its floors, ceilings and beams — all highly visible from Highway 93. Around the time the Clemson University Board of Trustees was approving the formation of the multidisciplinary Wood Utilization + Design Institute (WU+D) in 2013, professor Scott Schiff and a creative inquiry composed of civil engineering students began studying CLT and the strength of various species of wood.

Michael Stoner was one of the undergraduate students who made up the creative inquiry team responsible for first testing southern yellow pine CLT. Under the guidance of Dr. Weichiang Pang — an associate professor who serves as part of the WU+D team — Stoner is now in the final stages of pursuing a Ph.D. at Clemson in civil engineering. His research has focused on CLT’s performance under the duress of high winds and debris.

Douglas fir and spruce fir are the most common species used in CLT application, but the creative inquiry team narrowed its focus on the potential use of southern yellow pine, which is in plentiful supply across the southeastern part of the United States. Following tests in the institute’s labs, it was determined to meet the required performance standard used in manufacturing.

“We didn’t invent any of this, it was actually first developed in Europe in the 1990s,” said Pat Layton, director of WU+D. “But we proved the concept could work here with our students. It’s very strong and when designed properly, CLT is environmentally friendly and energy-efficient.”

Stoner fondly recalls the time he spent working with Schiff and another student two years ahead of him — Graham Montgomery — who is now a director for Swinerton Mass Timber in Greenville, South Carolina.

A covered outdoor patio overlooking Lake Hartwell and main campus is one of the feature design elements of the new Outdoor Education Center.

A covered outdoor patio overlooking Lake Hartwell and main campus is one of the feature design elements of the new Outdoor Education Center.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

“I remember talking to Graham and saying, ‘What if we had a building on campus made of this product?’ and the concept just seemed so far away,” Stoner said. “Now it’s all over our labs and you see it going up on campus. It’s fascinating to see where it is now versus then.”

It’s also fascinating to see the project in motion. The first beams arrived on site from WU+D partner IB X-LAM and its plant in Dothan, Alabama and went up on April 16. And it didn’t take long for the entirety of the 24 acres worth of harvested southern yellow pine to be put into place by Sherman Construction, the general contractor for the project.

Combined with architect Cooper Carry’s steel beam design, the facility has taken on the hybrid look university officials were aiming for since the onset of the project.

“The application of CLT fits perfectly with the type of natural environment we want to create,” Fiocchi said. “To be the second facility in the country to feature CLT sourced from southern yellow pine is an incredible opportunity not only for Campus Recreation, but also our partners from WU+D.”