Trees are a big deal in Idaho. Its timber industry generates more than $2.4 billion annually for Idaho’s economy, placing it among the top 10 wood-producing states. The University of Idaho (U of I) is one of the first American universities to establish a forestry department and one of just two schools to have a commercial research nursery.
U of I’s athletic department has uniquely integrated wood into its two major sports venues: the Kibbie Dome and the Idaho Central Credit Union Arena (ICCU). Kibbie is the largest wooden-roof stadium in major college football and one of the NCAA’s oldest domed football stadiums. ICCU, which only opened in 2021, stands as the first signature wood facility of its size in Idaho and is among the few sports facilities nationwide to use mass timber.
A type of engineered wood, mass timber has become an increasingly popular construction material because it offers multiple benefits.
It’s a more energy-efficient construction material than steel or concrete, and it can store carbon, too. The wood used in ICCU’s construction sequestered more than 1,100 metric tons of CO2, resulting in a decrease of more than 2,000 metric tons of it from the environment.
The material was also a key reason the arena got built. In the 1960s, U of I started planning to replace its antiquated Memorial Gym. Since 2001, Kibbie Dome has doubled as the home for the university’s main indoor sports teams. The new arena project got a huge boost after the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the school a coveted Wood Innovation Grant because of the use of mass timber.
According to Dennis Becker, dean of U of I’s College of Natural Resources, this funding helped the university “nail down the proof of concept that would define how the project would proceed. Showcasing the potential of mass timber and relying on local wood supply were priorities for us.”
As part of the arena’s design plan, Idaho primarily used wood from local, sustainably managed forests, including the university’s Experimental Forest. Sustainable Forestry Initiative-certified wood reduces the impact of climate change along with protecting biological habitats and water and soil quality.
“We took that as a challenge because we really wanted to demonstrate, at least regionally, that we do have the pieces in place in order for these kinds of facilities to exist,” explained Becker.
Some area businesses even donated materials and the use of their facilities to assist in making this project a reality.
“This is a unique facility. We are building a brand on this,” Matt Martin, U of I associate athletic director for special projects, told The Spokesman-Review. ICCU also pays homage to its prior home, the Kibbie Dome. Pieces of the portable basketball court have been recycled as part of the offices and reception area’s floating floors.
The old center court logo was incorporated into the entrance of the Idaho Administration Club Basketball Center inside the venue.
The new arena also provided hands-on learning experiences for students, particularly those in architecture, engineering, and natural resource science programs. Additionally, there were real-life opportunities to expand their knowledge on environmental-related topics like carbon sequestration, weather factors, and life cycle analysis.
Since opening in 2021, ICCU has accumulated numerous honors, including the National Council of Structural Engineers Associations’ Excellence in Structural Engineering — Outstanding Project Award, Athletic Business’ Facility of Merit, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Awards’ Wood Design & Building Award, and two awards from the American Institute of Architects.
The arena was built to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver requirements. ICCU has also helped the school earn a silver Sustainability Tracking, Assessment Rating System certification from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
While the awards are a welcome recognition of the arena’s environmental accomplishments, ICCU’s biggest achievement might be in its legacy. The use of mass timber is on the rise, and the arena’s success sets an example for both industrial and commercial projects. Case in point, the state of Idaho recently added provisions to use it in its building codes.
“The Idaho Central Credit Union Arena highlights how our built environment need not conflict with the natural world. We can build sustainably,” asserted Becker. “This arena also showcases the aesthetic beauty, environmental sustainability, and cutting-edge design that can be achieved by building with wood …we’ve created a model for others to follow and an important laboratory for learning and civic activity for decades to come.”