Above (ltr) Mr Gwala, the school Principal with Shabbir Ismail, an Architect and Mack Sathanand, a Professional Construction Project Manager for the DOE Portfolio (both from eThekwini Region)
In the State of the Province Address on 28 March 2018, the Honourable Premier of the Province of KwaZulu-Natal, the Honourable Mr Willies Mchunu MPL, announced the theme for 2018: “Leading with integrity towards growing an inclusive economy, for integrated, targeted and effective service delivery to improve quality of life.” He further reiterated, “Programmes of Government remain intact and we are keen to see these enhanced through effective, efficient and radical implementation, so that we can ensure that our communities receive the services they deserve.” As we celebrate the centenary of the late first democratically elected President, the late Mr Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the eThekwini Region’s workforce continues to stand firm, rallying towards ensuring that the pattern of providing excellent services links to “be responsive, be friendly, showing respect, providing the right service or product, train people, measure your clients’ satisfaction, listen and ask feedback”.
It is therefore an opportune time to have an intense look of what and how Public Works’ Professionals meet the expectations from those they serve. Service excellence may not be achieved in a short-term, because it is a journey and not a destination. The quest for excellence therefore means that one is constantly raising the bar to get even better at what one does. This journey clearly requires a great deal of commitment on one’s behalf, and also from all other colleagues and clients. This is probably the challenge in seeking to strive for service excellence; determining how can you get all employees to care; to want to go an extra mile in what you do; to believe in what another colleague is trying to achieve.
On Tuesday 10 April 2018, the ‘Communications Team’ joined Shabbir Ismail, an Architect within the Professional Services and Mack Sathanand, a Professional Construction Project Manager for the DOE Portfolio, at the Waterfall Combined Primary School site visit in Ndwedwe. Both professionals are based at eThekwini Region’s Office, under the leadership of Ms Dudu Fihlela, eThekwini Regional Director. Our story leads us to the school project, which reflects our Professionals as an epitome of a journey to service excellence. We begin to see progress and understand the state of what and how our Professionals do things.
The Waterfall Combined Primary School project was a Completion Contract for the upgrade and additions. The budget for the completion project, which consisted of six Blocks, was approximately R11million. When the initially appointed architect withdrew from the project, the architectural service was taken over by the Region’s Professional Services.
As we took rounds around the school buildings, in the company of the professionals, Mack Sathanand and Shabbir Ismail together with Mr Gwala, the school principal, we noted that the facility has been constructed with the use of products that meet latest building infrastructure standards.
Noting the challenges with materials in the standard school specification, Mack and Shabbir used their expertise to source alternate materials in the project with no additional expenditure. Their inputs have assisted the Region in saving funds on capital investment, yet still enhancing the service offering. The facilities and products used in this school project are of highest quality and durability.
The project was tailored with materials such as polished concrete floors, concealed tee suspended ceilings, solid doors throughout the school and the SBS water tanks. Architecturally, one could see that it is ‘one-of-a-kind’ structure that cannot be seen anywhere, especially considering the cost-cutting measures by the State. In an exclusive discussion with the professionals, it was evident that schools do not have adequate funding for maintenance. The original specification of vinyl floors just do not work in a situation where there is no grass on the playing fields, no door mats at the entrance to classrooms and where schools just cannot afford expensive polishing machines.
The expertise of the department’s professionals came on top as they explored alternative specifications that are beautiful, long lasting and yet cost effective. In the Administration block commercial porcelain tiles were used in lieu of vinyl tiles procured from the same budget. Because of its beauty and low-maintenance properties, a preferred solution was to use polished concrete floors, which are found in high-end homes and commercial outlets. A positive spin-off and healthy relations and partnerships with suppliers won the prize. At the time of casting the classroom floors, the team managed to find a service provider that could supply this product within the available budget. The advantage today is that the 2 classroom blocks were the first government schools in KwaZulu-Natal to have polished concrete floors, both internally and externally. Maintenance of these floors require only a mop and a bucket of water with detergent for cleaning, yet they have a lifespan of 20 years (tiles) and 50 years (polished concrete). Prudent utilisation of State budget – what a breakthrough.
An innovative approach was taken with all aspects of the building. For example, the interiors have a concealed tee ceiling with a metal grid and shadow-line cornices. The ceiling is therefore not susceptible to failure from wood rot and borer. It is quicker to install and eliminates the use of traditional cornices that are regularly a point of failure and cracking in ceilings. It is aesthetically pleasing and brings our classrooms into the modern day. Further, one might be surprised to learn that for the same budget as the traditional Formica countertops, there are ranges of granite countertops available which are a far more durable option and more beautiful. Instead of using fixed shelving traditionally constructed with pine structure, it was found that steel wall band shelving provides the school with flexibility in the shelving system and less vulnerability to rot. Similarly, the original specification calls for frame and ledge doors but it was found that better quality and stronger doors were available on the market and it was the obvious decision to use these.
Since the Going Green Conference that took place on 13-15 September 2017 at the Department of Public Works’ Auditorium in O.R.Tambo House in Pietermaritzburg, the professionals implemented leading innovations and ‘Green Technologies’ that embraced new thinking within the industry. They have engaged with LED lighting suppliers at the conference and have since thought it befitting that LED lighting was the way to go to reduce schools energy demand and costs. After engaging with various suppliers, they managed to source a product with a five-year guarantee, within the limited budget. The product in question is currently being installed at Ngcolosi Secondary School that is under construction.
The project was complemented with the provision of a solar geyser in the SNP Kitchen and rainwater harvesting.
Driven by the project leadership from the KZN Department of Public Works with full support of the client representative, value engineering was pivotal in the delivery of the project. Using an innovative approach to the specifications a better overall product was achieved without additional costs. The consulting team were challenged to re-assess design choices like using natural banks in lieu of retaining walls where possible, reviewing civils work design, and using alternate slab design. Considerable savings were thus made on the project in the order of approximately R500 000.00. This is an achievement to be proud of because a service is completed within the original overall design parameters and budget. Today, a more beautiful, robust school with lower long-term running costs and a lower maintenance burden on the school management, is operational. At the same time, it is hoped that a friendlier learning environment has been created for learners. Using bright multi-colours in the ECD classrooms was intended to stimulate the minds of young learners.
Although there is an existing municipal water supply, as a result of the location of the school, the supply is more sporadic than continuous, resulting in the school being without water for long periods. This is exacerbated in the dry seasons. It was found that rainwater collected in Jojo tanks were not always of drinking quality. The SBS tank however facilitates the supply of potable water and fills up when municipal water is available. Further, with an adjustment to the design of the tank base, the costing of this system was comparable to Jojo tanks, yet with superior results. The system is then supplemented by the rainwater harvesting using the Jojo tanks.
“Every project has its own set of challenges and glitches. I am glad we overcame these, I feel immensely proud, and satisfied that we have carried out governments mandate of providing high quality facilities that promote teaching and learning. Importantly, we have empowered the community with new skills through our EPWP Programme and an emerging contractor is now very proud to have built a new school to a very high standard,” emphasised Mack with excitement.
According to Mr Ismail, “An important aspect that is often overlooked in these projects is landscaping yet it has a direct impact on the building structure and its upkeep. It is usually the first sacrifice to the altar of the budget because we often undervalue its importance.” He further indicated, “By way of example, without proper grassing, grit from the playing field is carried to classrooms that eventually damages floors. The foliage helps hold up banks and keeps drainage clear of mud etc. In this project we therefore, took special care to provide a beautiful landscaped environment and we found it creates a sense of ownership and pride in the users of the facility. With the incorporation of additional facilities like the Jungle Gym in the ECD and the chessboard in the assembly area, it is hoped that the additional stimulation would have a positive impact on learning. These interventions may improve learners and teachers’ morale and result in improved academic performance.”
Waterfall Combined Primary School
It is amazing to see that when the school management team and learners feel proud of their facility, they drive its maintenance and upkeep. A better environment is conducive to improved learning and teaching and we are confident these small interventions will go a long way to equipping our future leaders of a better country for us all. Credit must go to the main contractor who was eager to learn and strove to provide the best quality workmanship at all times. It was both humbling and fulfilling to hear the principal describe his school as ‘better than the schools in Umhlanga’ and it makes one to remember that there is no reason it should not be. With the full support the client (DOE Ilembe) this school is a good example of how working as a team results in a situation where the whole is more than the sum of the parts.
In conclusion, giving due consideration to material choices and ensuring good quality of workmanship the team is confident and remain hopeful the school will remain in good shape for 15 to 20 years. The state of Waterfall Combined Primary School project really embraced journey to service excellence.