Deborah’s Blog: Centre for Excellence – Dec 2017

We’ve got two main projects on the go: Learning Plaza 2 and the new Ablution Block plus a few smaller site works and improvements. Managing construction sites is not straight forward. There are different challenges every day, ranging all the way from deciding how to adapt the programme because the roofing sheets are delayed, to working out why the site water system has failed and how to fix it. Much of my job is overseeing the contractor and ensuring that the works are built as per the drawings and to excellent quality. This is surprisingly difficult, not least because the contractor and I often have wildly different ideas about what is “standard” practice. But I’m learning to pre-empt misunderstandings and the contractor is learning to pre-empt my frown. All in all, it’s keeping me on my toes (within my steel capped boots of course), but I love the variance, being out and about, and just getting stuck in (and invariably covered in concrete/paint/sand).

Learning Plaza 2

After a few weeks of groundworks for the Learning Plaza, we’re now rocketing ahead with the slab, columns and walls. Casting the ground floor slab was a loooooooooong day: 15.6m3 of concrete, all mixed using what you would probably describe as a “household” cement mixer.

Of course we’re using the Learning Plaza to provide experience to some of our trainees. It’s been really rewarding to watch them learn and develop new skills, particularly on the brickwork. When they started out on the walls, each trainee was coupled with a skilled mason with the mason watching over them every step of the way. Now, the trainees can almost all work unsupervised, turning out the brickwork to the same standard, albeit a bit slower, as the guys who’ve been doing it for years.

Ablution Block

It’s really exciting seeing this building come into reality, after so many months of working on the design (thanks due to our wonderful pro bono Zambian architects, a+urbantechnics). I can now physically walk into a toilet cubicle, although I confess it’s missing flooring, a door, a roof and indeed the toilet – we’ve still got quite a bit of work ahead of us.

Before I go

Because I’m British, I can’t leave you without a comment on the weather. As it’s turned into summer, I’ve turned into a melted zombie. Temperatures are daily in the high 30s and there’s a noticeable lack of productivity each afternoon. However, we did have a freak rain storm a couple of weeks ago, which, if it hadn’t come through at about 4am I think I would have gone out and danced in. Unfortunately rain in mid-October is probably a warning that the rains are going to come early this year – which I’ve now got to mitigate against in my construction programme.

And finally, I’ve collected about 6,000 (yes, six thousand!) plastic bottles. Yet again, I’m going to leave you with a cliffhanger on this – tune in next month to find out why.