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Putting up walls.

DesignTech Homes Of Forrest City Is On Cutting Edge of Construction Industry Trend

At 8:45 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15, the first side panel of a new house went up at 2217 S. Park St. in Little Rock.

By Wednesday afternoon, the house was "in the dry" -- the trusses were up and the decking was on top.

Next week, construction on the 1,200-SF, three-bedroom residence should be complete and, within a few days, ready for the owner to move in.

What makes this whirlwind project possible is a technique known as panelization. Instead of house frames going up one board at a time on site, wall panels are "prepackaged" as frames at the Design Tech manufacturing plant. They are then put together in a simple, step-by-step process at the construction site.

Panelization has become a money-saving industry trend, says Chuck Jones, building services manager of DesignTech Homes of Forrest City.

DesignTech is the only manufacturer of factory-built panels in the mid-South area. It introduced its framing packages to the Little Rock housing market last week by framing the house on South Park near the state Fair Grounds. The company has manufactured wall panel components since it located last year in Forrest City.

Its plant occupies 20,000 SF on 10 acres of land in the Forrest City Industrial Park. Recently, DesignTech acquired a Forrest City truss company, which operates out of leased space in a nearby plant.

The Delta Community Development Corp. provided start-up technical assistance to the company. It also owns a majority of stock in Design Tech. Workers at the plant are hired through the Job Training Partnership Act, sponsored by the East Arkansas Private Industry Council of Forrest City.

Andre Stephens, sales and marketing manager for DesignTech, says the company has an engineering department that can convert almost any house plan into its panelization system. More than 2,000 SF of housing can be built in the plant per day.

The components are then erected on site by a contractor.

"With 'stick built' houses, it would take about a week just for the guys to frame the house," Stephens says. "This is an assembly line system. And, let's face it, the human element is not as accurate as a machine.

"This is quicker, and it saves costs for homeowners."

Popular Up North

Part of the savings is in reduced labor costs, because the cost of workers' compensation is lowered with less time spent on site.

Panelization has been popular with home builders in the North for some time because of the shorter building season and higher labor rates. Last year, 37 percent of all new units in the United States were built with manufactured panels.

"Market data shows that more than 80 percent of all new housing units are built using some manufactured components in order to reduce costs," says Earl Anthes, president and chief executive officer of DesignTech. "It's the future of building."

Anthes emphasizes that DesignTech does not compete with local builders because most of the company's customers are builders who buy the packages to lower their framing cost and reduce their construction cycle.

Stephens says the technique is another step toward affordable housing.

The house under construction in Little Rock is being built as part of the city of Little Rock's Model Block Program.

Financing for the project has been arranged through the Housing Revitalization Program of Worthen Banking Corp.

Arkansas Power & Light Co. provided a $4,000 grant for the heating and air system.

The cost of the house will be about $40,000, Stephens says.

"It's truly a community project," he says. "... Affordable housing is a big issue in Arkansas now. I think you'll see more and more panelization because of it."

DesignTech also is under contract to provide six houses for the Memphis, Tenn., Habitat for Humanity. Most of the construction on those houses will be done by volunteers.
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Title Annotation:Across Arkansas; DesignTech Homes of Forrest City
Author:Webb, Kane
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Sep 21, 1992
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