Building More Classrooms At Half the Cost

By Lou Janssen Dangzalan in Surigao City    Tuesday, 17 July 2007

When a country has a huge shortage of classrooms—like the Philippines lacking 74,115—the obvious solution would be the construction of more classrooms. In areas where resources are hard to come by, however, that solution is easier said than done.

Some stakeholders in this city chose to do something about the problem, leading to the inauguration last Friday of the six cost-efficient classrooms in Barangay Day-Asan. Using the Earthbag Technology System, which utilizes mostly sacks of earth held together by cement and minimal wood and steel, the project effectively doubled the number of classrooms in Day-Asan National High School, therefore serving more students, at half the cost.

It started when the World Bank organized a competition called “Panibagong Paraan” (New Ways) to be a marketplace for ideas in development work. An NGO called Akayin ang Bukluran ng Kabataan sa Daigdig (Abakada) submitted the proposal for “Ibang Klase: Earthbag Classrooms” (One-of-A-Kind: Earthbag Classrooms) that will use the technology described earlier.

Abakada’s proposal won a P1 million grant from the Japanese embassy.

The NGO approached several congressmen to get the project rolling, but only then Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers (now newly elected governor) made solid follow-throughs for the project. He went as far as donating to the project the proceeds of the golf tournament that he organizes annually. In time, the Surigao City government helped as well by loaning out heavy equipment for the construction of the classrooms.

Abakada tapped social entrepreneur Illac Diaz of My Shelter Foundation to do the structural design of the classrooms. Diaz said that from the standard cost of constructing a classroom, which ranged from P400,000 to P500,000, the earthbag system cut down the cost to about P200,000 per classroom.

Before, classrooms in Day-Asan National High School were made mainly of nipa. Students had to struggle with the noise from classes being held at the nearby barangay multi-purpose hall. With the completion of the Abakada project, the school now has 10 classrooms and a library that can cater to the needs of 360 students.

This convinced Abakada executive director Crisel Cudiamat that there is a “need to be open to other modes of construction.”

Diaz was the one who tapped cement giant La Farge Semento to provide technical assistance in the construction of the classrooms. La Farge supplied the cement for holding the structures together.

However, the cement manufacturer’s involvement in public school construction won’t end with the Day-Asan project. La Farge’s technical team will be doing research on waste recovery in the area. Agricultural waste in Surigao City usually consist of coconut husks, rice husks, and wood, and La Farge is looking into the possibility of mixing these by-products with cement to produce school furniture and fixtures.

Cudiamat said that if La Farge’s experiment succeeds, it will provide a better alternative to the standard wooden or monobloc desks that public schools normally purchase but aren’t durable enough to lasts a school year.

Cudiamat said Abakada is working with La Farge on potential earthbag classroom projects in other areas.

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