The Hamilton, Ont. design firm of mcCallumSather is playing a key role in helping a local charity realize its goal of building a state-of-the art, multi-purpose educational facility in the African country of Liberia.
The Liberian Learning Center project is being spearheaded by Empowerment Squared. The charity was founded by refugee Leo Nupolu Johnson who fled war-torn Liberia in 1998 at the age of 15.
Johnson arrived in Canada in 2006, after spending eight years in refugee camps in Africa. He graduated from Hamilton’s McMaster University in 2011 with a degree in political science.
While there, he founded Empowerment Squared, an organization that promotes access to education, lifelong learning and ground-breaking projects.
To be built in Johnson’s hometown of Paynesville, the Liberian Learning Center is said to be a first of its kind in the West African country. The literacy rate is estimated at below 50 per cent.
It will produce its own power; it will store and treat its own water,
— Willems Ransom
“We have been supporters of Empowerment Squared and the Liberian Learning Center since meeting Leo eight years ago,” said Christina Karney, an associate at mcCallumSather.
The project is being led by the charity in partnership with Rotary International, Rotary Club of Hamilton, Rotary Club of Monrovia, Paynesville City Corporation, the Hamilton Public Library and mcCallumSather.
“It is a true labour of love on the part of so many people,” said lead architect Willems Ransom. “This is a relatively small project but it will have a huge impact.”
Renderings were unveiled at a meeting in Hamilton in early November. Architects, designers and mechanical engineers at mcCallumSather are providing expertise. The firm is working with local consultants in Liberia to complete the project.
The firm said sustainable design principles have been incorporated at all points in the design. In part, the sloped roof forms a large, south-facing armature which harvests solar energy and rainwater.
“By necessity, this will be a very green building,” Ransom said, pointing to the absence of reliable power and sanitary and clean water infrastructure in the area.
“It will produce its own power; it will store and treat its own water on site.”
Ransom said the aim is to make use of local labour and building materials during construction.
“This is a very grassroots project,” he said. “We want to ensure that the design is constructible and with the labour force that is available.”
The facility will be the first building constructed as part of a three-phase master plan. It will include co-working and business incubation spaces as well as a library.
The project will be a sister library for the Hamilton Public Library.
Future phases include sports and recreation facilities and event facilities.
A ceremonial groundbreaking was held in Paynesville in late 2019 in order to secure the site.
“But we probably won’t be starting construction for another six months to a year,” Ransom said.
The fundraising goal is $2 million. As of mid-January, $165,000 had been raised.
Donations can be made at www.empowermentsquared.org/how-you-can-help/donate/.