McKenzie Highlands and Dr. Martha Cohen Schools

Calgary, AB

When the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) initiated a competition for two schools – McKenzie Highlands Middle School and Dr. Martha Cohen Middle School, the bids came in approximately $6 M over budget. To reduce the capital cost without reducing the architectural program, the CBE retained Group2 Architecture Interior Design Ltd. to assume a team to develop an alternative design using wood. ISL was engaged for the structural engineering of the project.

Developing an Alternate Design

ISL’s alternate design was innovative, featuring floors made of heavy timber and Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT). Each two-storey school had a total gross floor area of 8181 m2.

Meeting the Client’s Needs

Due to project schedule requirements, it was necessary for the design phase to run from startup to tender in only 64 days. The team not only stuck to this tight timeline but also delivered the project $3 M under the original budget.


Timber was used to ensure that the schools would be sustainable. A Carbon Summary revealed that each school used 1,983 cubic metres of wood – the amount that US and Canadian forests grow in 5 minutes. The wood in each school sequesters 2,283 metric tons of carbon dioxide – the equivalent to taking 483 cars off the road for a year or the amount of energy required to operate 241 homes for a year.

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