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Building with plastic

Local structure to feature polystyrene block construction

ASHLAND ­ Batzer Construction will soon begin work on a three-storybuilding downtown that'll be unlike anything Ashland's seen.

The company plans to use a building material that resembles Lego blocks:Polysteel.

We're willing to give it a try, said Russ Batzer, presidentof Batzer Construction. It's a little more expensive, but there'ssome value that you get.

Values such as strength, insulation, silence, speed and ecology, saidDarrin Thornton, of Thornton Concrete Construction. That's the only certifiedPolysteel installer in the area.

About 50 companies manufacture expanded polystyrene blocks, said JohnArroyo, executive director of the Northwest Cement Producers Group. Polysteelis a brand name for one of those companies.

The $750,000 building is planned for the corner of Siskiyou Boulevardand Ashland Street. A basement and first floor will house shops, while two1,400-square-foot apartments will occupy the third floor.

Batzer said a video store and pizzeria have committed to moving intothe new building.

The building process is similar to building a Lego castle. Hollow polystyreneblocks are stacked to form a wall. Concrete is then poured into the hollows.

The process gives the building the strength and durability of concrete,and the insulation of polystyrene, Thornton explained.

We were looking for something better, faster, stronger, hesaid. It fit the bill. It's really neat stuff.

The building process is child's play compared to other construction,cutting down building time, he said. The process can save months on a majorproject like the Ashland building.

The polystyrene doesn't just insulate the building from the weather.It acts as a powerful sound insulator, Batzer said ­ important for abuilding next to a major road.

It'll be a virtually silent house, he said.

The only drawback is the price: as much as 5 percent more than conventionalbuildings. But that doesn't take into account money saved in insulationcosts, labor costs and simplicity, Thornton said.

Polysteel has been around for about 20 years, although it's fairly newto Southern Oregon.

The material has been used in private homes throughout the area, Arroyosaid. An entire subdivision in Salem was built using it.

Batzer said construction could start within a month.