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Ironworkers resolve moves Haiti trades school reconstruction effort forward

Vince Versace
Ironworkers resolve moves Haiti trades school reconstruction effort forward

Volunteer ironworkers got more than what they expected on a recent trip to Haiti to help in the reconstruction of Ecole Lakay, reports a Canadian Construction Association (CCA) official.

"These six guys who came down were unbelievable in what they did," said Serge Massicotte, a former CCA chair who is overseeing the project for the association. "They were overwhelmed by what they saw and at the end of the day, three of them left all their tools to the Haitians."

Massicotte delivered an update on the school reconstruction effort during CCA’s 98th annual conference in New Orleans, La.

On Jan. 28, a crew of six British Columbia ironworkers travelled to Haiti to join the project to help finish off its steel structure. CCA has been engaged in the rebuild of Ecole Lakay since 2010.

The original school was destroyed after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake rocked the island nation in January 2010, causing catastrophic damage to the country’s infrastructure and buildings.

An estimated three million people were affected by the earthquake with the death toll attributed to it ranging from 100,000 to 220,000. The Haitian government has reported that 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed or were severely damaged due to the earthquake.

CCA teamed up with L’association de la construction du Quebec and the British Columbia Construction Association in 2010, and then partnered with Builders Without Borders (BWB) and The Rinaldi Foundation, to rebuild the school in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Paul Beacom, dispatcher for Local 97 of the Ironworkers Union of B.C., reported on the union’s website that the crew of six "contributed essential services and knowledge towards completion of the project." The team "executed the building’s erection, including its floor and roof decking. While on the ground, they also imparted trade secrets to local workers."

Massicotte said the knowledge transfer from the ironworkers to the local Haitians helping in the rebuild is invaluable. The ironworkers turned over some of the work to the Haitians who had been working on site.

"They actually finished the rest of the deck. So some of that transfer of knowledge we hoped to do has been achieved."

Political unrest in Haiti had hampered Ecole Lakay reconstruction efforts until January of this year. CCA and its project partners monitored the situation and after assessing it with the Canadian embassy it was determined that "although there was unrest, if we took due care" there would not be a problem, added Massicotte.

CCA is acting like the general contractor on the project now since it has been difficult to find a reliable contractor locally.

"We have taken on the work ourselves," said Massicotte.

The project is likely to be short of funds, roughly US$200,000, reported Massicotte and "we will need another $400,000 to $500,000 to get it done."

Fundraising efforts at the outset of the project raised approximately $1.4 million in funds and in-kind material donations.

However, given the general contractor role CCA has undertaken and the recent impactful experiences from volunteer workers last year and this year on the project, help can vary.

The association and its project partners plan to reach out to firms, labour groups, the building trades and "anyone who would like to experience some work in Haiti"

"We will ask for donation of materials," said Massicotte. "But, the biggest thing is people. If we can get people down there, it will be the biggest thing."

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