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Fernley developer forays into pre-cast wall business

Rob Sabo

Fernley developer Rick Arnaud faced the need to enclose a new shopping center with about a quarter-mile’s worth of masonry wall a few years ago a cost of $500,000 with traditional concrete-block construction.

Arnaud, general manager of Sierra West Development LLC, began researching alternatives, combing the

Internet and traveling from Oregon to Texas to look at pre-fabricated masonry wall products. But most were lightweight, more suitable to backyard applications than commercial development.

He found what he wanted when he toured the Bluffdale, Utah, plant of Verti-Crete and what began as a simple purchase turned into a successful and growing business.

When Arnaud went to the Verti-Crete to sign a purchase order, he learned the company didn’t have a licensee on the West Coast.

He snagged the opportunity, paying not much more for the license than the costs of shipping his first order of the heavy product to Fernley.

In 2006 Arnaud purchased five acres in Hazen that he split with BLT Concrete, which supplies the materials to pour walls. He purchased the forms and molds to pre-cast the perimeter wall systems. The plant has four employees and uses six installers, while Arnaud handles administrative duties.

“We envisioned it would pay for itself with our own use for Sierra West Development,” he says. “We hoped it would catch on, and as soon as it went up the phone started ringing. It turned into a monster.”

But like other suppliers to the residential development market, the company has seen a slowdown in recent months.

Customers include Centex Homes, Reynen and Bardis Communities, KB Home, Lennar, and Fernley-based Hawk Properties. Commercial clients include Tanamera Development, and The Ribeiro Companies. Examples in the Truckee Meadows can be found at Amber Meadows, an R&K Homes development on North U.S. 395, as well at Cyan, a Centex development at the end of South Meadows Parkway.

Ed Davis, land development manager for Reynen and Bardis, says the Verti-Crete wall system can be installed more quickly than standard masonry walls and allows for easier removal of graffiti.

Today, Verti-Crete takes about 90 percent of Arnaud’s time, and he plans additional plants in South Meadows, Las Vegas and California.

Shipping plays a big part in the business: Six-foot-high panels weigh about 3,500 pounds, while eight-foot panels weigh close to 5,500 pounds. Arnaud can only ship 140 feet of fence per truck.

“Shipping has added a lot of cost to my wall,” he says. “But block in California is way more expensive to put up, so developers are willing to eat the cost; it still comes in under what they bid for block.”

Cost for finished product, which can stack to 12 feet, runs about $70 to $80 per lineal square foot. Arnaud says installation takes three people. Wall sections “float” between columns with poured concrete bases, and crews can erect about 500 feet of fence per day, compared to 80 feet for traditional block construction.


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