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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 August 29.

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.

EWB-Full Spec Tank          EWB-student refrection 
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 Technology
student Ryan Oliver sees his reflection inside a junction box.

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 boxes.

  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 removed.

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 silent. 

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 some
  surveying work was done 
    Supervising Work: Engineers Without Borders member Elaine Schaudt overlooks the cement mixing process for the bottom slab of the building.

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 place. 

Visiting Batey Cojobal and Batey Santa Rosa

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.

EWB-Country life         EWB-Schaudt
A young girl living with her parents in Batey Cojobal.  Scrap wood and corrugated metal are common construction materials for homes throughout town..
    Summer Experience: Rose-Hulman 
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.