RASTRA breaks ground in Southwest

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 Messenger photo by Sandi Latimer
 Franklin County Commissioner Paula Brooks displays the Styrofoam ice chest she was given at the groundbreaking for a new business near Grove City. She is to return when RASTRA completes work on the plant and turn in the chest that can be recycled into building materials for the housing construction.

Work is underway on a building near Grove City that will provide 47 green-collar jobs for what officials hope is a new wave in construction.

Ground was broken Oct. 26 for an $8.3-million facility that will turn out an insulated foam product used for walls in the building industry. The product will be made by using polystyrene, more commonly known as Styrofoam.

The company, RASTRA, is headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz., and making its foray into the Midwest.

"Our Columbus facility will be an important step to bring the benefits of the Rastra system to the rest of the country," company president Karl Holik told a gathering of city, county and Jackson Township officials.

He said he envisioned a facility where workers turn out products for construction products as far away as Charlotte and Atlanta.

"The location will enable RASTRA to reach a high percentage of the U.S. population with lower transportation costs," he said.

Columbus City Council member Charleta Tavares reinforced his vision when she cited the proximity to Rickenbacker Air Base as a convenient way to bring materials in and send products out.

Franklin County Commissioner Paula Brooks, who served on the board of the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO), sees the value of recycling a product.

"It’s not just about keeping waste out of the landfill, but recycling otherwise wasted Styrofoam into a useful product while providing green-collar jobs for our future," she said.  

It has been estimated that as much as 6 percent of the waste that goes to the landfill is polystyrene. That amounts to an estimated 87,000 cubic yards a year, said Ron Mills, interim director of SWACO.

"We can find new uses for what was once considered waste, and at the same time help build for the future," he said.

Building products made of Styrofoam are not new in central Ohio. In 2000, school children collected Styrofoam products destined for the landfill and sent it to RASTRA, which in turn used it in the construction of My House at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The facility, when in full operation, is expected to produce 3,500 square feet of wall products per shift, which is enough to construct a mid-sized house, Holik said. Work will begin with one shift and eventually expand to two, he added.

Employment is expected to be 47 in about three years. Those workers are expected to be able to produce more than one million cubic feet of products a year.

Construction on the building could take as long as nine months, officials estimated. In a twist to the usual groundbreaking where designated officials of the state, city, county and company turned the shovel full of dirt, everyone in attendance was given a Styrofoam ice chest and advised to use it in good faith.

"Bring it back in nine months when we have the ribbon cutting and we’ll show you what can be done with it," said SWACO spokesman John Remy as he handed out the white chests.

The company has received a $2 million loan from the Ohio Department of Development for the construction. Another $4 million came from private financing and RASTRA has put up the remaining $2.3 million. In addition,the city of Columbus, which owns the land where the company is building at 2500 Jackson Pike, has allowed the company a tax credit for eight years.

The recycled Styrofoam is ground and mixed with cement to create the products that Holik says will hold the heat inside during cold weather and keep the heat out during hot weather.

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