Under a USAID design-build contract, CDM builds four earthquake-resistant schools and better relationships with the citizens of Pakistan.
Pakistan is among the most earthquake-prone regions in the world. The same seismic forces that created the Himalayan mountain range are still active. The magnitude 7.6 earthquake that occurred in northern Pakistan on Oct. 8, 2005, is considered the most devastating natural disaster in the country’s history, according to Mohiuddin Ali Khan, author of a new book called Earthquake-Resistant Structures: Design, Build and Retrofit. A copy of his book just happened to arrive a few days before I began delving into the four projects that won CDM Smith and its team a 2012 Design-Build Honor Award in the Educational Facilities Category. Khan devotes an entire chapter to Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake and outlines best practices in post-disaster engineering, many of which are apparent in CDM’s approach to the four Pakistani schools it designed and built.
During an earthquake more people die from building collapses or their associated effects than from the earthquake itself. Three-quarters of the 80,000 deaths linked to the northern Pakistan quake were attributed to collapsed houses. Schools were quite vulnerable. Because the disaster occurred on a Saturday morning during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, many children were in school and many parents were resting after their pre-dawn, pre-fast breakfasts. About 17,000 to 19,000 students died in the schools that collapsed during the earthquake.
USAID Reconstruction Efforts
The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) mission in Pakistan focuses on working with the local and regional governments to implement programs in five key areas: energy, economic growth, stabilization, education and health. It also stresses working with local contractors and institutions to ensure those programs align with local priorities as well as build local construction capacity.
USAID selected CDM Smith as the design-build firm with single-point responsibility for the Pakistan Reconstruction Program, a five-year, indefinite quantity contract (IQC) to build earthquake-resistant schools and health facilities. Task Order 10 (TO-10) featured the design and construction of Dharray Government Boys High School, Chatter #2 Government Girls High School, Rerrah Girls College and Rerrah Boys Higher Secondary School. TO-10 was completed the fastest of any task order and with no change orders.
USAID and CDM worked closely with stakeholders, including Pakistan’s Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA), the Higher Education Commission of the Government of Pakistan, provincial governments and partner USAID programs, including Teachers Education Program.
The ERRA committed early on to the concept of “building back better,” an approach that embraced not just risk mitigation but aimed to avoid building collapse in the very likely event of future earthquakes. Because Pakistani building codes did not meet international standards, CDM Smith implemented the Uniform Building Code 1997 (UBC 97). The UBC seismic requirements were significantly revised in the 1997 edition and include design force levels based on strength design rather than allowable stress design, as had been used previously. Other significant changes include introduction of a redundancy/reliability factor. UBC 1997 is the most widely accepted code regulation in the United States for seismic design of structures and nonstructural components.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is the federal agency charged with seismic-hazard mapping for the United States. USGS scientists have been tracking and monitoring seismic activity for over a century. Although seismic hazard mapping is an important factor in mitigating future earthquake risk, Pakistan lacks this key resource. According to Kahn, this long-term and time-consuming mapping should be encouraged across Pakistan, especially in vulnerable regions. In the case of the four schools, CDM Smith addressed the lack of data needed for seismic design by micro-zoning the area and mapping fault lines themselves using geographic information system (GIS) technology.
To reduce administrative costs and attract responsive, comprehensive bids, the four schools grouped under TO-10 were treated as a single project. Because the format of the prime contract was firm fixed price, anything exceeding the total cost was CDM Smith’s responsibility. Any savings on budget due to schedule and/or execution methods accrued to CDM Smith. The company executed firm fixed price contracts with its subcontractors, passing on the same terms to them and ensuring their incentive to execute the work quickly and within budget.
Because cash flow is a significant problem with Pakistani contractors, CDM Smith decreased the time between payments from a maximum of 30 days to an average of two to three weeks. Issuing payments to subcontractors more frequently increased cash flow and streamlined procurements — maintaining progress at the sites and minimizing interruptions in craft labor.
Materials and Delivery Challenges
CDM Smith constructed roads and bridges amidst sheer mountainsides and switchback-mountain passes to access the remote construction sites. Because geography and high altitudes made the sites inaccessible during monsoon season and winter, schedules accounted for minimal activity at these times.
CDM Smith procured many bulk materials, such as rebar, to gain economies of scale, control the delivery schedule and maintain quality.
Speculation was a concern due to Pakistan’s faltering economy. To reduce speculation by bidders on steel — necessary for earthquake-resistant school construction — CDM Smith paid in advance against a guaranteed bank letter, locking in prices. The CDM Smith subcontractor then collected steel directly from suppliers upon presentation of material-release vouchers issued by CDM Smith, allowing CDM Smith to control price, quality and delivery.
Also, to mitigate delays caused by employer-purchased materials, CDM Smith ensured that purchased materials reached the staging camp a month ahead of installation. To speed delivery of materials from Islamabad — 300 kilometers away — CDM Smith improved roads to the government boys high school in Dharray, building a new bridge to allow access to the site even during minor floods.
Writing in support of the project, a USAID official notes, “These schools were constructed under some of the most challenging circumstances of any task order performed under the [Pakistan Reconstruction] Program. Yet CDM Smith utilized the design-build delivery mechanism to successfully deliver the schools well ahead of schedule and within budget.”
According to CDM Smith, creating an integrated team of diverse professionals and engaging stakeholders was critical to project success. Starting with proposal preparation and through planning and design, community mobilizers, designers, technical specialists and construction management personnel co-located in Pakistan. During construction, long-term engineering and construction staff also co-located in Pakistan for the project duration. Specialty technical professionals and contractors were engaged at the beginning of the proposal stage. Following these DBIA best practices ensured common understanding of goals and client and stakeholder expectations as well as enhanced trust and respect among team members.
Maximizing Local Resources
The concept of “building back better” applies to more than just earthquake resistance. The schools were designed to be low maintenance to ensure maximum sustainability. Permanent materials such as masonry were used and demands for water, sanitation and electricity were balanced with local supply. Space allocation was analyzed to avoid over-building while ensuring functionality. This resulted in buildings with an expected life cycle of 100 years.
All four schools make optimal use of land, are multifunctional and adapt to the climate. Built from locally sourced sustainable resources, replacement materials are easily procured if necessary. These modern, attractive buildings feature durable interior and exterior finishes and low-maintenance materials, including terrazzo flooring and enamel paints. To adhere to international building codes and reflect social and cultural preferences in the region, CDM Smith consulted on designs with local school management committees, which are decision-making bodies organized to represent community interests.
The TO-10 schools were the first in the region to comply with UBC 97 and Seismic Zone 4 and be accessible to people with disabilities. Though the sites were geographically challenging and space-constrained, the schools feature ample indoor and outdoor play areas. To comply with local cultural and social practices, the girls’ schools feature high boundary walls, private play areas and glass blocks and translucent glass in windows that face neighboring residences. Toilet blocks are separated from the main schools to ensure hygiene.
CDM’s program went beyond the design-build of seismic-resistant schools for mountainous regions. It included a social mobilization team to promote community engagement and acceptance. CDM Smith trained more than 200 Pakistani employees, 13 construction subcontractors, and six architecture and engineering (A/E) firms to comply with UBC 97 standards, using local expertise for cost effectiveness. Local workers gained a sustainable model and the skills to implement future projects that meet international standards.
According to USAID, the TO-10 schools are contributing positively to U.S.-Pakistan relations. A 2009 study of 28,000 families in Kashmir found that 60 percent of people living on or near the fault line said they trusted foreigners — specifically Europeans and Americans — compared with just 20 percent of those surveyed who lived 40 miles away. CDM Smith’s strong ties with its Pakistan-based design consultant, UNICON, was certainly evident when they traveled more than 7,000 miles to join the design-build team at the 2012 DBIA Awards Dinner.