April 2013 - News from Jamaica

Posted on 3 April 2013, 10:20:44
April 2013 - News from Jamaica

Joe Martin writes:

I am based in a small town on the south coast of Jamaica, named Black River.  It has approximately 4000 inhabitants and was once a thriving sugar port.

Black River does attract tourists with its wild crocodiles and safaris up the river, but tourists do not typically stay and the town does not benefit from the tourist trade in the way that many other Jamaican towns do.

I have come with the professional branch of Projects Abroad (Projects Abroad PRO) www.projects-abroad-pro.org, which is design to encourage graduates, professionals on a career break and retired professionals to take part in voluntary work abroad.

I have been placed in the Road & Works department of the Parish Council.  The Road & Works department are responsible for developing and implementing strategies, programmes and work activities related to the physical construction programmes of the local authority and maintenance of its physical assets.  This includes assisting in the development of, and ensure compliance with, relevant laws concerning physical structures.

The offices are located on the sea front just behind the court house and around 5 minutes walk along the sea wall to my host family's home.

The offices are basic and under resourced as well as under funded, resulting in a lack of trained engineers and surveyors to carry out the work that they are required to do.

My first day of work didn't get off to the most successful of starts when it transpired that the Road & Works department were expecting a Japanese Civil Engineer for two years!  As much as they tried to hide it, there was a definite look of disappointment on their faces, concern upon Stacy's (Projects Abroad's representative) and, for me, a cross between concentration and confusion as I tried my best to understand what was being said in a mixture of Patois and English.

Despite the bad start, everyone is friendly and I have been assigned to Mr Kenneth Brown, who is the Vice-Superintendant of the Department, and given a desk in his office.  My first task given to me is to design a concept for a new library to be located on a disused plot of land on the sea front within central Black River.  The job scope that I am given is that it is to be a branch library and of single storey construction.  The library is to serve the community and to fit in with the more historical buildings within Black River.  It is to be flexible to enable future change of use but everything else is left up to me.  The project is not particularly suited to any of my past engineering experiences or studying but it's interesting and it will be good to challenge myself.

Mr Dunkley, the Superintendent of the Department, stressed that a simple structural form should be used in order to limit cost and labour.

My first step in researching the libarary requirements was an organisation called the Jamaican Library Service, which provides requirements for their various libraries.  Next I surveyed the land in order to ascertain and develop a based plan of the library.  I did this using a scaled version of Google Maps along with taking actual site measurements.

To progess further I collected images of local architecture and tried to see how the new library can fit into the town whilst still standing out.  I researched other libary designs and space planning requirements, such as book stack sizes and spacing, storeage requirements and toilet allocation.

As the scheme design developed, consideration was given to fire strategies and exit routes, disability access, security consideration and flooding prevention and protection.

I discovered that it it is recommended that an exhibition display area is clearly visible upon entry, any children areas should not be near either the entrance or the exit and visible from the reception, deliveries should have easy access and access walkways are clear.

My initial design includes for natural ventilation, allowing the cool sea breeze to cool the building, while keeping computers back from the windows and away from the sea air that carries salt with it.

In between working on the library, I have been attending construction sites with Mr Brown to check their compliance with regulations, assisting with the financial budgeting of upcoming works, and setting to work and inspecting teams of workers to clear the three main beaches that make up Treasure Beach.

More to follow...

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