The University of Venda’s campus is a hive of construction activity as the institution of higher learning prepares to accommodate more students in 2017.
Situated in rural Thoyandou, this comprehensive university caters to learners from all areas of South Africa and the challenge has been providing them with an affordable, safe and quality place to stay and learn during the academic year.
Eight female and eight male residence blocks are being built behind the main faculty and each of these are three-storeys high and comprise about 14 rooms.
Main contractor, Base Major, has made steady progress on the project, despite the complexities that come with most university-related builds, including time pressures, space constraints and working safely and efficiently in an operational area.
By August, the female residences were close to completion with the various trades making swift progress on the “fitting-out” of the various rooms, with some already plastered and ready to receive their coats of paint.
This impressive rate of construction also again brings to the fore the many benefits of building with pre-cast concrete that are accurately casted in a factory setting and swiftly installed on site.
Working alongside Base Major and contracted directly by the university is Coreslab, a well-known specialist in pre-cast concrete items, including hollow-core slabs.
The company was contracted directly by the university to provide invaluable expertise in the early conceptualisation phases of the student accommodation upgrade programme, based on its stellar work earlier on an earlier project in this expanding precinct.
Jaco de Bruin, managing director of Coreslab, and his team were instrumental in helping architect, Lemeg Architects, and structural engineer, Thiko Consulting, optimise the use of hollow-core slabs ahead of the construction phases.
“This extensive upfront work started in 2011, when we started transferring knowledge on optimising the design and works programme. This process was key to ensuring the success of the project, which eventually broke ground in 2016 to accommodate an anticipated increase in the number of students,” says De Bruin.
Importantly, this is Coreslab’s largest single project to date, and will complement its existing impressive portfolio, which also includes the design of hollow-core slabs and pre-cast concrete items for private property developers in-and-around the Limpopo area.
Not only has the company supplied hollow-core slabs and beams to the project, but its involvement in the build was recently extended to the supply of the pre-cast concrete stairs and fire escapes. They replace the initial design specification for steel items, and this change was essential in keeping the project on schedule, while also being a more cost-effective and durable alternative for the client.
However, it is Coreslab’s innovative pre-cast solution in the early construction phases that has again demonstrated its standing as a single-point of contact for all pre-cast concrete requirements.
De Bruin says that the decision to also use hollow-core slabs as part of the foundation work accelerated the construction programme by up to six months. The professional team agreed with his proposal that this was the most optimal solution available to overcome the delays experienced during the piling operations that commenced early in 2016.
Coreslab is supplying just under 10 000 tons of pre-cast items, covering a surface area of about 34 000 square metres, to this project – a contract that is valued at about R30-million.
Working strictly to the as-built drawings, all items with their own unique number are batched to the highest standards at sister company, Corebatch’s, state-of-the-art operation in Polokwane.
There is constant interaction between the installation team on site and the plant to ensure timely dispatch and delivery of all items, ensuring that there are at least two blocks on site at any given time.
De Bruin interacts with the main contractor and the installation team at least once a week as part of the planning process. This serves as an integral channel of communication between the batching operations and the plant.
“Success of the project relies on extensive forecasting to overcome so many variables, especially unpredictable weather patterns and extremely high rainfall in Thoyandou. The area is overlain by a clayey soil which, when wet, brings operations to a grinding halt. When this occurs, it is impossible to operate any heavy equipment on the site, including our ‘horse’ and trailers, that are used to haul the items from the operation to the various construction faces. This has a significant impact on delivery and installation schedules, and a pro-active approach to avoid costly delays,” he says.
One of De Bruin’s direct points of contact on this site is Quintus Kruger, site manager of Corestruc, a sister company tasked with installing the pre-cast items on site.
De Bruin has been involved in the construction of many pre-cast concrete structures, and describes the wet “Venda Rooi” as the single biggest challenge on this construction site.
“Planning around the extremely unpredictable rain spells adds a further level of complexity, over-and-above all of those that come with operating in live and congested area. It is possible to receive five millimetres of rain at any given time in the winter season. When this occurs, we have to stop operating and think on our feet to ensure we get the project back onto schedule as soon as possible during the dry period. We simply cannot afford any delays when we have dry periods, requiring constant interfacing with the client and Coreslab,” Kruger says.
He is part of the small and efficient team deployed to this site, and is joined by six other Corestruc personnel including the skilled operator of the mobile crane that is used to lift and place the items directly from the trailers to avoid unnecessary movement.
The crane is moved to the various construction faces at the eight male and eight female blocks to mitigate “picking” and “carrying” the heavy items, and planned around the bricklaying activities of the main contractor.
If the rain permits, this approach has ensured that the team is able to install 400 m2 of hollow-core slabs – three truckloads of items – in a single shift.
In most other circumstances, Corestruc would have easily been able to install up to 500 m2 in a day, which is considered an optimal rate by its standards.
By August, the Coreslab and Corestruc teams had already started installing the third and last floor on the remaining female blocks with the intention of completing all of these units in October this year.
They are placed on top of a mortar bed that is prepared by Base Major, which is also able to start laying the bricks about an hour after they have been grouted, ensuring an optimal overall construction sequence.
Complementing the striking brick façade of the structures is the look and feel of the exposed pre-cast concrete beams, as well as the internal and external stairs.
They have been produced by a special self-compacting concrete mix designed by Coreslab technologists that has also significantly bolstered efficiencies at the batching operation to ensure seamless delivery of these items to its customers.
De Bruin has all the reason to be proud of the work already achieved on site and the imminent completion of the residences.
This project, combined with the company’s involvement in other government and private-led property developments, has certainly concreted its legacy as a leader in the field!