School construction, week 4
category: Jims Guatemala

We are into the fourth week of work at the school. Our first big shipment of materials arrived last weekend, so now we have block and steel to start the first wing, as well as PVC pipes to install the sanitary system and the site drainage. This is good; lack of materials is a silly reason to hold up a job.

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I was taking pictures of some of their rebar assemblies, and mentioned to León that I sometimes teach class to architecture students and I like to get pictures of interesting construction examples. “You workers here always impress me, because you can do so much with so little. You have, what, half a dozen tools? With those and strong arms, you can build anything.” He sortof liked the complement, but took it as a chance to do something i HATE… ask for gifts.

chenhierro_sm.jpg“You know, we could work a lot faster if we had some power tools. Can you get us some power tools?” he asked. Then he started on about how Bosch is a really good brand, and anything else would burn out after a few days. “If we had a circular saw, it would save a ton of time ripping boards. If we had a fulidora, we could cut the concrete end blocks in half instead of chipping them with a hatchet.” (These things are both true) He was just getting started: “…and if we had an electric drill, whoooeee! that would save a lot of time. Ya know, we just got the temporary power hooked up, but it’s kindof silly to not have anything to plug into it.”

trenchSM.jpgWe then went into a bit of wrangling with what fulidora means (best I can figure, it’s a high-powered cutoff saw… I wonder if he realizes that it’s almost as expensive as one of the classrooms? Sure he does). He knows that I have no money at my disposal, but I told him that I’d mention that we are looking for these things to anyone who will listen. Though, I am a little worried about what would happen to these tools after the project is done. I hope he doesn’t think they will end up HIS. Maybe the school could auction them to raise more money for the construction?


León also tells me that he’s been placed in charge of the work, and Pascual is out. This made me a little sad; León is pretty clever, but Pascual has the calm, steady hand of an “old guy” that always seems to make projects turn out well. But as I was walking back from the site, I passed Pascual on his way to the building and chatted with him. He didn’t say anything about not being in charge anymore, so I really don’t know what to believe. I guess I will just keep my ears open.

The next day, I returned to inspect the steel placement before they poured the first concrete. They did a pretty good job: everything was plumb, tightly wired, within tolerances, and supported above grade. They don’t have premade chairs to set the steel on to hold it off the ground; instead, they made a bunch of tacos… little concrete spacers with tie wire embedded in them. They work really well, despite the odd name. Here we see the steel cage for the primary column, with the workers checking level with their plumb bobs. Guy wires hold the cages upright until they can be fully concreted in place.

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Remember that spring that floods part of the site? Well, the masons decided to make use of it. The town’s water tank is dry this month (it’s the dry season), so they dug a lagoon adjacent to the spring to collect water. Here we see Josefina, the only woman on the building committee, hauling a bucket of water for mixing cement. And mixing cement is done the old fashioned way… wheelbarrow of sand and gravel, sack of cement, bucket of water, and a lot of muscle. They mixed several cubic yards this way in just a few hours, to pour the first footings.

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Posted by: jfanjoy