Local materials, workforce key to Ghanaian school project
By Mrs. Jennifer Aldridge (USACE)August 26, 2013
GRUMESA, Ghana -- African mahoganies stand regally above the natural tree line here. Reaching heights of 140 feet, the trees rise above the jungle canopy, enjoying unobstructed sunlight.
Similar to the noble stature of mahoganies in the rain forest, shooting up above the rest, the construction industry holds mahogany lumber in high regard, paying top dollar for the strong, robust timber. It is sought-after for its versatile and durable characteristics. Chosen for its integrity and availability, mahogany is one of many local materials used to construct the Grumesa school project in central Ghana.
Deep, rich, red mahogany doors adorn the new facility. The junior high school building, an addition to the existing Grumesa school campus, is a U.S. humanitarian-assistance project funded by Africa Command and managed by the Army Corps of Engineers Europe District in partnership with the embassy. Dover Vantage was the construction contractor responsible for executing the $208,700 project, completed last month.
In addition to mahogany, locally sourced decorative cement block, selected by the school headmaster, was used in the building process, said David Pollock, president and CEO of Dover Vantage.
"A lot of the materials … were locally purchased. Besides the prefabricated structure, all of the finish was done using local materials - local mortar, local render, local block work," Pollock said. "I am not sure where else in the world we could find this block work."
The new building, featuring heart-patterned cement block, will house more than 150 students in grades four through six. The project includes three classrooms, a teachers' room, storage space and a detached latrine facility.
This project was a great feat for the contractor, said Marcelo Maier, a USACE Europe District project engineer. Grumesa is located in middle of the jungle. It's a six-hour drive from the capital, Accra, with the last hour on a dirt road littered with potholes. From a logistical perspective, getting construction materials to the project site was a challenge.
"This project is a great example of the importance of establishing relationships with local stakeholders -- the community, village chief, suppliers and subcontractors," Maier said. "Dover delivered this project on time and on budget through dedication and commitment to using Ghanaian materials and labor."
More than half of the subcontractors, foremen and below, were local Grumesa villagers.
"Most of them have been here from the start, and some have augmented when we needed more support," Pollock said.
Stephen Appiah, a local subcontractor and father of three Grumesa students, was happy to work on this project, he said.
"I felt good. Being a father of kids who go to school here -- I enjoyed the project," Appiah said.
In fact, many subcontractors' children attend school at Grumesa, Pollock said. The school is a focal point in the 1,500-person village; as a result, most of the residents have been involved in the project.
"There really has been a strong community aspect right from the start. It would have been very difficult to deliver a project in such a remote location without the support of the community -- without their buy-in," he said.
Even the subcontractors' wives assisted in the construction effort, Pollock added.
"They helped carry water and kept the guys sustained; they brought them lunch," he said. "The whole community has been involved."
From a USACE perspective, it is great to see the contractor hiring local labor, Maier said.
"This community is fully vested in the project, and it is powerful and productive. Dover gained the trust of the locals, so much so that the site manager, Billy Ellens, was crowned vice chief of Grumesa," Maier said. "It was great to do this site visit and see the work product yielded through this relationship."
Ghanaian subcontractor Jerry Jo credits U.S. partners and contractor, Dover, for his newly acquired knowledge of U.S. building and safety practices.
"We learned more working here. [Dover] taught us things we didn't know. They helped us with safety -- we used goggles and hard hats here," Jo said. "We saw that they are doing the correct work. They didn't allow us to do something wrong. The roof is good, the walls are good. Our children have to come here and learn, so [the school] needs to be good."
AFRICOM's intent to promote continued development in Africa, according to the organization's website, is directly supported through the education and skill improvement of local Ghanaian workers in Grumesa.
With a humanitarian-assistance project, the goal is to better the community while giving the Department of Defense some reach into that community, said Lt. Col. John Van Steenburgh, Office of Security Cooperation Chief for Ghana, Togo and Benin.
"The influence is a lasting influence, and we love that," he said. "Projects like this give us visibility into the region, an opportunity to have a presence in the region and develop relationships in the region. These HA projects turn into a way of bonding with the community and forming relationships that may hold off negative influences."
The relationship between the U.S. and Ghana was further strengthened Aug. 20 when Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus participated in the school's ribbon cutting ceremony. He spoke to a crowd of administrators, teachers, students and parents about the importance of education and opportunities.
"The bedrock of success in life is education," Mabus said. "It does not matter your situation in life; you should have the opportunity to go as far as your talents will take you. This school is not just for children gathered here today, but for generations of children to come."