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Rising from the tundra

So what is it? The building site is near the high school at Cemetery Road and Sixth Street. Debbie Griffin photo

Curious passersby have wondered since about mid-November: What's that building on the northwest corner of Cemetery Road and Sixth Street?

Land and building owner Pete Anderson said last week it will be a 10-unit apartment building. He broke ground on the building in late October and said weather has made it difficult to make progress as quickly as he'd hoped.

"I've just been struggling this winter," Anderson said.

He bought the one-acre site from the First National Bank of River Falls and is doing most of the construction work himself with a crew of one or two others. He enlisted the help of Brion Construction to do the roofing job quickly. It's about halfway finished.

He's been covering the walls before each snow then uncovering them to begin work again. Anderson said it's important to prevent snow and ice from getting into the crevices of the exposed building.

That hasn't been easy with this season's harsh weather. He said the extreme cold has snapped equipment hoses and created dead batteries in power tools.

"It's brutal," said Anderson about the subzero weather and its effects, adding that he's been lucky the last few winters.

He expects to finish the building by July and says he'll be targeting college-age renters.

Anderson and wife Bonnie have lived in River Falls 23 years. He said they've moved nine times during those years.

Sometimes they build a new house and sometimes they move into a fixer-upper and work on it. The couple normally sells those after making improvements.

Anderson said that approach worked well until the real-estate market took its deep dive.

"I've been doing this 20 years," he said about construction work.

The local man said the roof on the new building isn't quite finished but should be soon. After that, he'll begin framing the interior walls and move into window installation, siding, finishing, plumbing and electrical elements, landscaping and a parking lot.

Anderson said, "We'll throw some heat in there, too."

He said some people might think the exterior walls of the apartment building look a bit different. That's because he's using insulated concrete forms (ICFs), like in his home.

He said they provide much better insulation and sound resistance than traditional-style walls. ICFs consist of a 2 1/2-inch-thick piece of Styrofoam, a cavity into which he pours concrete, then another 2 1/2-inch-thick piece of Styrofoam.

Anderson said, "Just like building blocks is what it is."

He said the walls go from the footings to the ceiling, are super strong and are considered by many to be "green" for their insulation value. Anderson said having ICFs in his home has dramatically reduced his heating bill.

He learned about ICFs while attending the Chippewa Valley Technical College's Wood Technics program in River Falls. The construction professional said he used to work at Andersen Windows, and though he liked the job, said factory-line work wasn't as interesting as the kind of construction he does now.

Eventually he left Andersen to go back to school and learn more about building.