High-tech Lincoln Logs turn heads in Texas

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
Chris Cobler

Trees are almost as old as dirt in the construction industry, but they’re new to Texas in the form of the state’s first mass timber office building.

The Texas project generating the buzz is The Soto, which opened last week at Eighth and Broadway streets in San Antonio. The six-story building, which will anchor the Cavender neighborhood, has 140,000 square feet of leasable office space and 6,000 square feet of retail on the first floor.

The cost of the project was not released, and BOKA Powell partner Don Powell said “mass timber is not an inexpensive way to build an office building.”

Proponents of mass timber construction say it’s an attractive new way to build because it uses a renewable resource that allows developers to reduce their carbon footprint. The most common form is cross-laminated timber that allows for faster construction and is more resistant to fire.

“The Soto’s beauty offers a striking alternative to mundane office buildings, and it takes my breath away when I see it,” Powell wrote for D CEO Real Estate.

Walmart also sees the potential for growth in mass timber. The retail giant wants to build its new headquarters using Arkansas pine trees, so it recruited Structurlam to invest $90 million in the country’s first mass timber manufacturing plant. The operation is scheduled to open in 2021 in Conway, Arkansas.

The new construction also may be seen in Fredericksburg, where First United Bank recently opened the state’s first full mass timber building. The bank features southern yellow pine, a native Texas species.

New growth for Wichita Falls

A General Motors’ Delphi assembly plant that closed 14 years ago in Wichita Falls will spring back to life as the country’s largest hemp processing center.

Panda Biotech of Dallas announced that it had contracted for the 500,000-square-foot plant and 97-acre campus to create the Panda Texas Plains Hemp Gin. After opening in 2021, the plant will be the country’s first to cottonize hemp fiber on a commercial scale, the company said in a news release.

In a recent post, Levi’s touted cottonized hemp for its jeans because the plant grows faster, uses less water and leaves behind cleaner, healthier soils. “Something you’ll see a lot of this season (and beyond) is cottonized hemp,” the jeans company predicted.

Panda Biotech’s move brings a capital investment of about $110 million, a possible $30 million investment in local farming and 50 jobs to Wichita Falls.

Loving that salary

Texans may see how much their county elected officials are paid via a newly updated state report.

The Texas Association of Counties publishes the report on its website during even-numbered years. Dice and slice the numbers as you will. Here’s one way to look at them:

The county judge in Loving County, the least populated of the state’s 254 counties, is paid $98,045 to govern 169 residents. His counterpart in Harris County, home to about 4.7 million people, makes $190,851.

‘That’s what teachers do’

The pandemic spotlights how indispensable public schools are, Texas’ teacher of the year writes in an essay for the Texas Association of School Administrators.

“Educators provide vital community services such as childcare, regular meals, counseling, social services and even healthcare in addition to providing each child with a high-quality education in a safe and nurturing environment,” said 2020 Teacher of the Year Karen Sams of the Weatherford Independent School District. “We do this in an underfunded education system and yet, we always find a way to make things work because that’s what teachers do.”

Retiring minds want to know

If the pandemic is leading you to consider an early retirement, Forbes’ annual list might be of heightened interest this year.

Two Texas cities, Dallas and San Antonio, made the 2020 list of the magazine’s 25 best places to retire in the US.

Along with the lack of a state income tax, both cities made the list for affordable home prices, good climates and rich cultural scenes. Forbes knocked both for serious crime rates above the national average, however.

For the first time, the magazine considered climate change in forming its list, using data on the impact of future flood, heat, cold, sea level rise and drought. Both Dallas and San Antonio  scored low on risks from climate change.

Get ready for silver tsunami

By 2030, older Americans will outnumber children for the first time in US history, the Census Bureau predicts.

To prepare for this silver tsunami, “all the champions who work to protect this population need to continue to advance their knowledge and skills,” Texas Adult Protective Services officials said in a news release announcing a “20/20: Exceeding the Vision” virtual conference Sept. 30-Oct. 2.

To report elder abuse or neglect, call 1-800-252-5400.

Chris Cobler is a board member and past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. He welcomes email at ccobler@texaspress.com.