In December 2019, Canadian-based manufacturing company Structurlam Mass Timber Corp. announced it would invest $90 million to buy, retrofit and equip a former steel plant in Conway. That facility would supply engineered wood products — mass timber — to build the office buildings in Walmart’s new corporate campus in Bentonville.
Not much has happened since then — unless you count a global pandemic, Great Britain’s split from the European Union (Brexit), skyrocketing lumber prices, and a week-long shutdown of one of the busiest trade routes in the world (Suez Canal).
“We are trending right on track with our project schedule, our budget is working out well, and our staffing plans are where they need to be at this point,” Structurlam CEO Hardy Wentzel said in a recent interview. “We feel very fortunate that despite all these massive events, we’re fighting our way through it. I can’t wait to see the backside of all this.”
Wentzel said Structurlam commissioned the first of the Conway plant’s two assembly lines in early June. The second will come online in August. That will complete the plant retrofitting, and it will begin producing materials, most of it earmarked for Walmart.
“A large portion is dedicated to the [Walmart] project, but we have a bit of excess capacity to serve other customers as well,” Wentzel.
Structurlam facilities in Conway and British Columbia can manufacture the mass timber parts needed to produce three 200,000-square-foot buildings a month. Wentzel said four Walmart buildings are in the fabrication design process, and the first “standing of timber” in Bentonville will begin in October.
Wentzel said the new corporate campus would be the world’s largest mass-timber building project. Structurlam will use approximately 1.1 million cubic feet of its mass timber products in the Walmart corporate campus, situated on roughly 350 acres between Arkansas highways 72 and 102. In addition, the anticipated floor area will be over 2 million square feet of office space used in 10 mid-rise office buildings.
Wentzel said Walmart is also using Structurlam wood to build the new campus’ fitness center. The company is considering mass timber for other buildings, too. Wentzel said skyrocketing lumber costs are a concern — Structurlam buys the lumber, then processes it into mass timber products — but the increase hasn’t caused any project delays.
“Said differently, Walmart has not been distracted by their desire to use mass timber to build a sustainable, climate-smart campus,” he said. “They are moving ahead but being very mindful of cost as it relates to the construction project.”
Walmart says its goal is to open the campus in phases through 2025.