Case Studies

Transportation - Allendale, MI, road widening project

Geofoam by Atlas EPS Leaves Grand Rapids Waterline Undisturbed

When the Michigan Department of Transportation decided a road-widening project along a 6.75-mile stretch of Lake Michigan Drive (M45) through the town of Allendale would be necessary, that meant leveling several hills and valleys along the two-lane rural road to create a divided four-lane boulevard.

An expansion of the busy rural artery could not happen until the load on a nearby buried water main—that supplies up to 45 million gallons per day of the vital resource to the greater Grand Rapids area—was also lessened.

A traditional sand fill would exert a 2,000-pound-per-square-foot load on the 1939 waterline and that would present too much of a rupture risk to the 46″ diameter, wire wound reinforced concrete waterline. So road engineers turned to a less traditional, more innovative fill for the job.

MDOT specified Geofoam, the generic name for large blocks of expanded polystyrene, which were manufactured by Atlas EPS. Atlas EPS is a division of Atlas Roofing Corporation that specializes in the development and manufacture of quality HCFC-Free Expanded Polystyrene insulation products.

Geofoam is an environmentally responsible fill option that does not contaminate ground water or soil, according to a representative for Atlas EPS in Byron Center, Michigan.

This was not the first time Geofoam has been used in Michigan, says the Rep. The transportation department has found many applications for Geofoam on its road building projects.

“They have put a lot of foam in the ground for a lot of reasons,” said the Representative. Geofoam is also used in road projects over underlying soft soils that cannot carry the designed loads. Geofoam also is installed alongside bridge and foundation walls as a soil substitute to reduce horizontal loading.

In some cases, the foam can reduce the amount of steel reinforcement and concrete needed to build bridges because of a reduction in the lateral load, the Rep noted.

For the M45 project, Geofoam greatly reduced the weight over the waterline. For example, a 20-foot by 1-square-foot column of Geofoam weighs just 31 pounds, the Company explained. Over the entire project, the foam blocks weighed a combined 533,000 pounds and represented just 1.5 percent of the nearly 36 million pounds of sand fill that the Geofoam replaced.

For perspective on how much foam was placed under Lake Michigan Drive, the Company offered the following: “The 4,100 blocks of Geofoam used in the project would cover a football field stacked over 87 feet tall.”

Geofoam blocks can carry the enormous weight of a four-lane boulevard and the traffic it carries because over the surface of the blocks they can withstand a tremendous amount of pressure, a member of the Engineering Team explained. The blocks for the M45 project were at 1.54 pcf density EPS, but density can be adjusted to specifications.

Each block was molded at Atlas’s Byron Center plant and then cut to size before they were delivered. Field cutting was easily achieved on site, especially to fit around manholes.

Each block on the M45 project weighed 130 pounds and was 32″ x 48″ x 96″ in size, making installation easily to accomplish with two workers.

Before the road could be surfaced, the sides and top of the blocks were wrapped in a PVC liner to prevent degradation if a petroleum spill occurred on the highway. Dirt was moved to road level to secure the blocks from side-to-side movement. On top of the blocks, a minimum 3-foot layer of sand and gravel kept the foam below the frost line.

Bruce Morren was project manager with the project’s general contractor, Nagel Construction Inc. of Wayland, Michigan. He saw the project to completion in November 2002.

The foam blocks left the factory and arrived at the job site in August 2001 by flatbed truck consisting of 36 blocks per delivery.

Morren said he enjoyed working with Atlas EPS, which delivered enough Geofoam to cover a nearby 10,000 square yard, where it was covered to prevent UV light degradation.

“They made it faster than anybody else could in the area,” Morren said.

The advantage to Geofoam was safety, according to Morren. “The labor cost is probably about the same but the safety factor is key.”

As the Geofoam was laid, about 40 to 45 million gallons per day of water flowed through the City of Grand Rapids waterline, Morren noted. A heavier fill or dirt moving equipment could have punctured the line, and it would have taken two to three hours to shut off the water.

“When you put the foam over the line you know you are not going to disturb it,” Morren said.

The team noted that Geofoam is also the more cost effective choice of fill when sand fill requires long-distance transportation.

Other benefits include a reduction of labor costs and project schedules, according to Federal Highway Administration officials. Geofoam also can be constructed easily in limited right-of-way areas and in adverse weather conditions, officials said.

Installation of the Geofoam was a snap, according to Morren. Each foam block was fastened into place with 4″ by 4″ galvanized steel connector plates. The blocks were laid perpendicular to the previous layer with the vertical joints offset to the greatest extent practical. Morren compared it to building a brick wall.

The multi-layered foam blocks were placed in trenches that had been cleared of vegetation and any large sharp-edged soil particles prior to placing a geotextile and/or sand-bedding layer. The plastic liner was installed in 20-foot lengths and overlapped by 18 inches. The foam was then covered by 5 feet of sand and gravel. The road was surfaced with bituminous asphalt.

This was the second road project incorporating Geofoam that was successfully completed by Nagel Construction. The firm has been in the road, water and sewer excavation business since 1958.

The first Geofoam application by Atlas EPS was in 1996 for a bridge approach in northern Michigan. Since then Atlas EPS, has provided Geofoam blocks, technical assistance and engineering for road and underground construction projects throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.

The first ever application of foam in highway construction dates back 40 years and was installed in Finland. Styrofoam was first use in road building in the United States 20 years ago.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, the foam has been used on higher profile jobs in the United States by comparison to the Lake Michigan Drive project. The larger ones include the Interstate 15 project in Utah and the Big Dig in Massachusetts.

Both projects turned to EPS Geofoam to complete large embankment sections under extremely tight construction schedules that would not have allowed enough time for conventional embankment construction, according to the federal agency.

Geofoam embankments can be covered to look like normal sloped embankments or finished to look like a wall. Geofoam can be used to repair landslides, lighten loads over culverts or other structures.

“We’re up to eight to 10 states that have used Geofoam with success,” said Silas Nichols, a geotechnical engineer for the Federal Highway Administration.

Non-Transportational - Stockton, CA, stadium seating theater project

EPS Geofoam Raises Stockton Theater Experience to New Heights

Moviegoers are flocking to theaters with stadium-style seating because every seat in the house offers an excellent view of the movie screen. To create these unobstructed views, more and more of the stadium-style seating systems are being supported by EPS Geofoam, which is made of the same expanded polystyrene that Hollywood production crews sculpt into movie sets.

The newly opened $10 million City Centre Cinemas in Stockton, California, are no exception to the Geofoam trend. Instead of a framework of steel studs and plywood or a million or more pounds of concrete, the seats in the theater’s 16 auditoriums are firmly supported by Geofoam manufactured by Atlas EPS. On top of the foam base, the contractor placed waterproof gypsum board, a layer of metal and then 4 to 6 inches of concrete. The first floor auditoriums came in several sizes with the largest standing 40 feet above ground level. A second-story U-shaped mezzanine houses the projection room.

“The big trend is the stadium seating,” according to Bob Boggiano, project superintendent with Stockton-based F&H Construction. Anytime Boggiano can use Geofoam for a theater project, he prefers it.

“It’s just an easy way to do it,” Boggiano said. “It’s cheap. It’s fast.”

An upswing in the price of steel is another reason he selects Geofoam instead of a metal beam and pan construction. And he likes the ease of hoisting, handling and installation of Geofoam because of its light weight. The only metal on the Stockton theater Geofoam project were the rebar and facers, and some metal pans used to create the inclined walkways to the auditoriums. Another benefit of Geofoam in stadium-style seating includes filling a useless void under the seats in the building.

In addition to the benefits of Geofoam, working with Atlas EPS helped with the installation, Boggiano explained.

“This company, you give them plans and it comes all precut and numbered,” he said. It took just one-and-a-half days to place the foam into the 16 auditoriums with unskilled laborers doing the work. That was a savings of a week-and-a-half.

Mike Marsh, who is an account manager for White Cap Pro-Contractors Supply in Stockton, also said it was an “excellent” experience to work with Atlas EPS.

“Foam is foam,” said Marsh explaining it was more than just the product that resulted in Atlas EPS being specified for the job. It was the customer service.

The Atlas EPS design team in Byron Center, Michigan, took the construction plans and composed a diagram so the F&H crew knew where to place the blocks at the jobsite like a jigsaw puzzle. This also saves on waste at the job site. The foam blocks normally provide enough friction over their surface to be self-securing but galvanized steel connector plates were added to fully immobilize them. Each block is manufactured to 32 inches by 42 inches by 46 inches in size. Unique sizes were kept to a minimum to simplify installation.

Atlas EPS is a subsidiary of Atlas Roofing Corporation headquartered in Atlanta. Atlas EPS offers a wide range of products, including EPS foam for cold storage buildings, roof and wall insulation for recreational vehicles, and packaging. Geofoam is a generic term for EPS foam installed below grade.

The 16-screen movie theater, which is located at one end of a downtown plaza, is an architectural highlight of Stockton’s urban redevelopment efforts. Some underutilized vacant buildings were razed to make way for the theaters. In their place sits the theater and an 80-foot steel-framed rotunda to mark the theater entrance. Inside the rotunda, specialty glass and porcelain panels round out the rotunda dome. The panels glow from the light of eight interior skylights aimed at the panels. The colored lights can be changed to be appropriate for every occasion from Christmas to Valentines Day.

“It was an element that the city felt would enhance the entrance to the building being it was at an end of a plaza,” said Terry Woo, the project’s architect with Uesugi & Associates of San Francisco.

The Stockton Cinemas are operated by Signature Theatres, which operates 281 screens, located in 31 sites in 25 cities in California, Hawaii and Montana. Signature has worked with developers within other redevelopment districts throughout California in addition to Stockton. (Acquisition of Signature was pending for mid-September 2004 by Regal Entertainment Group.)

In addition to contractors paying less in labor costs for a GeoFoam application, owner representatives are paying more for it because of its advantages. Metal studs and wooden shear walls remain the cheapest, but not necessarily the quietest option for theater construction, according to Signature’s vice president of construction Michael Goakey.

“With a foam structure, we don’t get squeaking,” Goakey said. “That’s one nice advantage with concrete over foam, we don’t get any sounds out of it.”

The theater is 70,505-square-feet in size, with 3,300 seats. Those seats are distributed throughout three different auditorium sizes, including two large 419-seat auditoriums. The medium auditoriums hold about 290 seats and the small ones contain about 220 seats. Adjoining the cinemas is 17,880 square feet of retail space. Atlas Properties was selected to develop the project in August 2002. The City Centre Cinemas were part of the revitalization of the city’s Channel Head Master Development Area.

“It’s one of our top theaters,” Goakey said.

Among the high quality innovations are double concrete walls between auditoriums, making each one virtually sound proof. Also, large amplified speakers behind the movie screen and baffled walls help project state-of-the-art sound at the audience. The City Centre Cinemas opened in December 2003.

In addition to construction-related benefits, Geofoam is easier on the environment. The foam is especially useful for “green” building projects because it has outstanding thermal efficiency, and is recyclable at the end of a buildings useful life. Geofoam by Atlas EPS has superior moisture resistance, and can be cut to special panel shapes and thicknesses. Because Geofoam is made from HCFC-free “green” polystyrene, it is ideal for projects seeking credits from U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system.

Geofoam contains some regrind, or post-industrial polystyrene, and the amount can be adjusted during manufacturing to suit the needs of any project, according to Atlas EPS’s West Coast sales representative Jerry Jensen. Atlas EPS can measure—-to a certainty of 1/10 of 1 percent accuracy-—the amount of recycled post-industrial polystyrene in its Geofoam.

This is important to California builders integrating “green” building materials and concepts into their designs for “fast-track” approvals from local governments. Five years ago, the sustainable building movement was considered to be a dream perpetuated by “tree-hugging” environmentalists, according to Jensen.

“Now it’s becoming an economic advantage,” said Jensen, explaining just a week delay in the approval process can cost developers hundreds of thousands of dollars.