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Greetings from the Trenches: Rose-Hulman Engineers without Borders blog from Dominican Republic
September 7, 2011
Four members of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's Engineers
without Borders (EWB) group are currently continuing the
organization's work with the Batey Relief Alliance in the Dominican
Republic. They are renovating an old building on a sugar cane
plantation into a functional in-patient facility for the health
clinic Centro Medico, which serves approximately 10,000
people. This summer, the EWB team is focusing on expanding
the building's septic system, constructing a septic tank as well as
installing a pipe network. They concluded their work on
The Rose-Hulman group includes EWB President Angelica Patino and
Abby Grommet, two holdovers from last year's trip, and newcomers
Ryan Oliver and Elaine Schaudt. There are two mentors,
Wil Painter of Indianapolis and John Gardner, associate professor
of Spanish (serving as cultural mentor/translator).
EWB projects are multi-faceted and students bear significant
responsibility to successfully complete the projects.
Rose-Hulman students provided the following observations from
this summer's trip.
Sunny mornings almost always deceived us. Between noon and
2 p.m., the chorus of water droplets hitting the ground killed our
hopes for dry afternoons. At the height of Hurricane Irene's
threat, two full days of heavy rains halted all progress.
This was both good and bad -- it gave us the down time to reanalyze
our budget and discuss options for our next project, but it also
filled all the junction box holes and septic tank pit to the brim
with rainwater. With only a few days remaining, everyone felt
quite unsettled about our prospects of finishing in time.
|Frustrating Times: The
students found the septic tank pit
filled with rainwater following daily afternoon showers and
the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
||Times For Reflection: Rose-Hulman Institute of
student Ryan Oliver sees his reflection inside a junction
The rundown pump's periodic need for repair slowed progress even
more. Everyone dreaded these frequent breakdowns because that
meant we had to bail water out by hand. Through both the pump
and bailing, water levels eventually became low enough to resume
laying the blocks for the junction boxes and inserting the bottom
slab rebar for the septic tank.
Working to Completion
All junction boxes were constructed identically and only varied
in depth. Each of the junction box walls were built up to
ground level and had stucco applied to the inner walls for
waterproofing. The interior flow lines between each
pipe were contoured to direct fluid flow and reduce waste build
up. Finally, grouting sealed the precast lids to the junction
||Making Progress: Two projects completed by Rose-Hulman's
Engineers Without Borders team can be seen in this photograph: last
year's the roof on the in-patient facility (completed last summer)
seen in the back, and this year's the septic system installation on
the clinic grounds (seen in the front).
Most of the rainwater and groundwater was drained from the
septic tank pit. However, the bottom of the pit maintained
about five to seven inches of water at the bottom, since that depth
was too shallow for the pump. To solve this problem, a 2-foot
long, 6-inch diameter PVC pipe was perforated and inserted into the
center of the septic tank pit, where the elevation was the
lowest. The head of the pump was inserted into the perforated
PVC pipe, allowing for the water at the bottom of the pit to be
We then put the bottom slab and interior baffle wall rebar into
place, with approximately eight inches between each piece of
rebar. All 20-foot pieces of #4 rebar were shortened and
angled by hand, which took up a half a day of work. We
proceeded to mix cement with the hand mixer, also known as a
ligadora. In addition to sand, cement mix, aggregate (gravel)
and water, additives such as plasticizer and fiber were added to
decrease curing time and increase strength. As we mixed the
cement, the grumbling howl of the ligadora suddenly fell
Much like the pump, the ligadora broke down on us, causing us to
resort to mixing by hand. Dominican engineer Angel Rojas
saved the day yet again by returning the ligadora to working order,
and the bottom slab was cast in place.
A glimpse of our worksite as cement was mixed and
surveying work was done
||Supervising Work: Engineers Without Borders member Elaine
Schaudt overlooks the cement mixing process for the bottom slab of
The next morning, the first septic tank block was laid.
The master mason first squared the corners, and then built up the
septic tank walls. Every fourth layer, horizontal rebar was
added. Eventually, the septic tank walls were built to the
surface of the ground, and the top slab of the tank was cast in
Visiting Batey Cojobal and Batey Santa
Having completed the septic system at Centro Medico, we're
currently trying to determine our next project with the Batey
Relief Alliance. An administrator with the BRA suggested that
we may be able to implement engineering projects in neighboring
bateys surrounding Batey Cinco Casas. Saturday was our last
construction day, leaving Sunday as an opportunity to check out
Batey Cojobal and Batey Santa Rosa.
|A young girl living with
her parents in Batey Cojobal. Scrap wood and corrugated metal
are common construction materials for homes throughout town..
student Elaine Schaudt shares some fun
times with children from Batey Santa
Rosa during a tour around town.
In both bateys, septic system work would be viable, including
latrine construction and building a community septic tank where
current and new latrines would empty. Finding a central water
source and delivery system for the communities is also a
possibility, as well as conducting a housing project.