Brewer News

SnapSpace to use Lemforder facility

2.01.2011 – Bangor resident Chad Walton wants everyone to go to Google and search “shipping container homes.”

Walton purchased the former Lemforder building Monday and soon will be making modular buildings — homes, offices, dorms, emergency shelters and others — using recycled, prefabricated shipping containers.

“It’s crazy what we can do with them,” he said Tuesday at his new desk within the old Lemforder plant, which is now SnapSpace Solutions Inc. “We’re not creating the wheel — just nobody is doing it here, so we’re going to.”

Container City, a four-story building in London that is filled with work studios and apartments built in 2001 using shipping containers as the building blocks, is just one example.

Walton said customers can design their buildings to look like anything, such as a traditional New England home, and can cover them with vinyl, brick or any other siding.

“Once you put on the siding and trim them, they look cool,” he said, adding that each of the buildings will go up quickly and be Energy Star-certified.

Shipping containers can be connected and stacked to create modular, efficient spaces, and a range of creature comforts can be added easily. The containers are designed to be indestructible and are hurricane- and tornado-rated, Walton said.

Walton, a Houlton native, has been running businesses in the Bangor area for 24 years. Among his properties is the Houlton International Corp. facility, which he owns under Aktem Real Estate Investments.

His company, Turbine Specialist LLC, conducts metal finishing of turbines at GE Power Systems in Bangor and finishes gun barrels for Bushmaster Firearms in Windham, and he builds homes under Walton Homes Inc.

He started thinking about using shipping containers for prefabricating buildings a decade ago, but really got going on the idea after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

“The biggest key is the speed in which we can respond with housing,” Walton said. “With Katrina, they didn’t have a place to feed people. We could plop down a cafeteria in hours. Nobody else can do that.”

Walton said he has talked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross and hopes to sell them disaster relief units since they can “put them up, use them, tear them down and reuse them,” he said.

Maine Rural Development Authority is supplying some of the project’s funding, and Walton is working with two University of Maine programs — the Knowledge Transfer Alliance and the Advanced Manufacturing Center.

Walton needed a large facility, and the 126,000-square-foot former Lemforder plant is almost big enough. He also will use his 60,000-square-foot building in Houlton.

“This facility is going to be a prototype and manufacturing facility, and the Houlton facility is going to be strictly manufacturing,” Walton said.

The purchase price of the Brewer property was not disclosed. It had been listed at $2.5 million.

The Brewer property’s proximity to transportation infrastructure is a major plus for moving the finished product.

“We can put it on a train, a boat or on the highway,” Walton said. “When it gets to the site, it’s going to snap together quickly.”

To prefabricate and sell the structures, Walton said, he will need engineers, designers, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, welders, painters and salespeople and would like to hire “as many [former Lemforder employees] as we can to manufacture these.”

Lemforder officials announced in January 2009 that their Brewer plant, which once employed around 400 people making tie-rod ends and ball joints for several vehicle makers, would close in mid-2010.

Their last shipment of goods left Brewer this week, so the timing couldn’t be better, said D’arcy Main-Boyington, Brewer’s economic development director.

“This is great news,” she said, adding that in addition to how fast the buildings can be put together, “the price is less than stick-built, considerably.”

No matter what customers want, the modular buildings can be modified to suit their needs, Walton said.

“What can you dream up?” he said. “If you want something — snap — we can put it together.”

A copyright story from the Bangor Daily News by Nok-Noi Ricker, Tuesday, February 1, 2011.