In the current day and age, many commercial developments strive to meet goals around one of the following: community impact, environmental sustainability benchmarks, and cutting-edge design strategies. Some, however, are able to accomplish all three, and more. One such project, located in Redwood City, California, is looking to set and establish new horizons in the Bay Area and beyond.

The project is a lot about the community impact it will have in terms of the mass timber construction and its growing popularity. This is an incredible project that’s happening in the Bay Area and inspiring other projects; it really highlights Truebeck’s expertise in delivering mass timber projects,” said Jason Kollar, Senior Project Manager at Truebeck Construction.

The firm—in partnership with architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)—is on the verge of delivering a project called San Mateo County Office Building 3 (COB3), an under-construction development that will ultimately total 576,000 square feet across the County Office Building and an adjacent parking garage.

The environmental benefits of the wood and various environmental certifications are going to be the catalyst for employers to attract talent

The first component of COB3, which is configured into an H-shape that incorporates two public plazas, comprises a five-story, 208,000 square foot mass timber building that will be home to the county’s public servants including the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. It also includes flexible office space, a gym, cafe, multipurpose rooms, and the board chambers at which public meetings are held. 

The building interior features exposed wood, and a facade that complements the copper anodized aluminum panels alongside sizable glass segments. 

Adjacent to COB3 is a new, 368,000 square foot parking garage which includes 1,200 stalls and 124 Electric Vehicle chargers across seven stories to meet the needs of the County Government Center’s members. 

The project undertaking is one that will likely transform the way that the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) community thinks about sustainable design strategies – particularly the use of cross-laminated timber (CLT) – in tall, large-scale projects. 

COB3 will ultimately be a unique mass timber structure with glulam columns/beams and an interior that will feature significant amounts of exposed timber.

“[Mass timber] is already pretty popular in the Pacific Northwest. It’s uncommon in the Bay Area still, but it’s starting to grow in popularity,” said Kollar. “Our team has the expertise to deliver high-quality mass timber projects in the Bay Area.”

For Truebeck – which provides a number of services including preconstruction, construction technology and innovation, self-perform work capabilities, alternative delivery methods and safety management strategies, among others – COB3 offers the perfect and unique opportunity for the firm to leverage its past experience with mass timber with an eye toward the future needs of its clients.

“We have various markets and product types that we work with…mass timber is becoming one of those core product types…the clients we work with are extremely interested in timber; they just don’t have the visibility to it,” said Mark Whiley, Project Executive at the firm. “We’ve used this project as a teaching ground and incubator for our existing clients here in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest to educate them about the advantages of timber.”

In terms of educational learnings throughout the design of COB3, the process did not come without its challenges in light of the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, noted Whiley. “In terms of the feasibility, the constraints up to this point have been the global supply chain of gathering the timber and manufacturing it…facilities are definitely seeing this turn in the market due to COVID and are revamping and retooling to support the ongoing need of providing this product.”

In the larger context beyond the timber of COB3, the general growing popularity of mass timber could yet have a significant impact on its surrounding community activity in a post-pandemic world.

“In terms of mass timber across the market and developing notoriety and traction, if you look at people coming back to a workplace, employers and developers are looking to provide that healthy environment and a level of natural feeling,” said Kollar. “The environmental benefits of the wood and various environmental certifications are going to be the catalyst for employers to attract talent.”

For Truebeck, its latest flagship project could yet serve as a bellwether and motivator for the firm to expand its geographical reach throughout the construction industry along the West Coast, noted Senior Cost Engineer Lauren Tetrev. “Some of our company goals as they relate to mass timber is to grow into the installation market and to build out our Truebeck Construction mass timber installation group,” she said. “We have been working with mass timber suppliers in Oregon and Canada to build those relationships so that we are able to work together to acquire the material for us to install.”

More locally in San Mateo County, relationships with the citizens of San Mateo County had a significant impact on the design goals for the project, suggested Kollar. “As a government building, it’s a place where the public is coming on a routine basis. People feel better when they’re in a beautiful environment. The aesthetics of the project were beneficial on that front,” he said. “There are a lot of lessons learned that came throughout the design and construction and we can bring those lessons only acquired through experience to future timber projects.”

In the meantime, however, the Truebeck team has good reason to feel that COB3 is a significant accomplishment relative to other civic architecture undertakings, especially from a sustainability perspective. The new San Mateo County headquarters will be the first net-zero-energy civic building constructed with mass timber in the U.S. and will achieve an 85 percent reduction in structural embodied carbon.

Throughout the design process – the attention to detail that allowed the project to meet such noteworthy goals – Truebeck’s relationship with the County proved integral as both parties looked to navigate the associated challenges of such a partnership.

“[Our client] has been a great partner, and we acknowledged early in the job that we would have to work together in ways that [teams] maybe don’t conventionally work together,” Whiley said. “It’s been fun to watch the educational process, and also educating the local community about mass timber.”

Indeed, both Truebeck and the County acknowledged the ultimate ambition of COB3 to represent a new step forward for San Mateo, reinforced Kollar. “The County decided that this should be a generational civic building that should make a strong statement about County values. One of the statements was around sustainability…so having a sponsor from the County-level for mass timber was extremely important. The board of supervisors has been the champion in supporting the project throughout.”

The level of backing from the surrounding community played a role in COB3 being able to meet its significant potential and may well serve as a benchmark moving forward. “Something that stood out for me with this project was the amount of teamwork and collaboration that went into it from day one. There had to be an incredible relationship between our team at Truebeck with the operations and [preconstruction] side, the field team, and between Truebeck and our client,” Tetrev added. “The level at which we coordinated this project was above and beyond.”

Such a significant level of engagement from the County and its community members far surpassed the Truebeck team’s expectations for COB3. But for all the significant progress the project has made when it comes to promoting the successful viability of mass timber as a construction method, the impacts are not only environmental but socially significant as well. 

“I’m excited that the County, a government entity, has taken this leap…which is a big risk. The fact that they decided to really drive home their sustainability goals… we often see the government follow the private sector; I’m excited to see the private sector following the government. The County of San Mateo has set the bar and hopefully more projects will rise to meet it,” Kollar said.

Marcus Edwards Photography
West Coast Commercial Real Estate News