#12 Will ABTs hold the public purse to ransom?

Goodhope School - cracking along the edge of ABT concrete panels
Goodhope School - chipping of the ABT concrete panel surface from daily school wear-and-tear
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Clay brick has always been the material of choice for sustainable, low maintenance and long lasting infrastructure. Schools, clinics and houses built over the past 100 years all across South Africa, offer a proven track record of lowest lifetime cost.

It is expected that new programs like the ASIDI or Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative program will stimulate crucial education projects. ASIDI targets over 3000 schools across South Africa for reconstruction or service improvements – great news for local communities.

In the Eastern Cape, 168 000 schools are planned. This will tick some boxes in the region come election time. Unfortunately the “need for speed” is resulting in decisions that appear to sacrifice quality, longevity, usability and pupil safety.

The Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC) Council resolution (approved by the Cabinet) requires 60% of government's social infrastructure buildings to be constructed from pre-fabricated ABTs by 2017.  This decision is based on the assertion by CSIR Built Environment division that ABTs can offer significant savings in building time and costs”.

The CSIR Built Environment division is claims that Alternate Building Technologies or ABTs, are not only faster to erect, they also offer “significant savings in energy and life-time costs of ownership”.

Dr Llewellyn Van Wyk, CSIR Principal Researcher Building Science and Technology Department is quoted as saying: “Of the 40 systems that have been identified for use in the construction of schools, 32 of them perform better (generally) than conventional buildings”.

The Clay Brick Association of South Africa took a closer look at the performance of five schools built with these alternate building systems to establish the validity of the CSIR’s support of ABTs. These schools were built during the past three years:

  • Goodhope Senior Secondary School – Eastern Cape
  • Lotus Gardens Primary School - Tshwane
  • Gulandoda Junior Primary School – Eastern Cape
  • Olivenhoutsbosch Primary School – Gauteng
  • Pakamani Senior Secondary School – Eastern Cape

The five randomly selected ABT schools were visited by representatives and a camera crew, and their performance in delivering a superior learning environment was discussed with both headmasters and users. The five ABT schools inspected were selected from the schools identified by the CSIR as “performing better than conventional [clay brick] buildings”.

Maintenance issues in new ABT buildings

The photographs show typical cracking and disrepair on both the exterior and interior walls of the five ABT schools occupied less than 3 years. The wall cladding materials of the ABT buildings simply cannot accommodate the movement that results from daily expansion and contraction caused by hot days and cooler nights.

The panel surfaces also struggle to withstand the stresses of normal school activities and show hand marks, chips and scuffing. The result is a shoddy external and internal appearance, clearly visible to any bystander.

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