Civil Designer Showcase

The Great Sky Around The Big Hole

Don't worry be happy! The title of a hit song sums up Dirk Potgieter's approach to life and work. "We don't have problems," he says repeatedly. Nothing seems to faze him.

"We work in a wide circle around Kimberley, roughly 200km in any direction," he says in his quiet unhurried manner. The countryside in the Northern Cape, of which Kimberley is the capital, is harsh and scrubby. A region of extremes, the high temperatures have spawned towns with names like Hotazel, while shattered rocks are stark testimony to the freezing temperatures on winter nights.

"We are doing the earthworks for the building platforms at the new Kimberley prison. It's a straightforward job for us, it's just a very big project. There was a huge amount of sand that had to be moved. The first 600mm needed to be removed, as it could not do the job. We then had to remove the earth under that and create the platform with the lower-level ground."

The Kimberly prison job is not difficult. "It is basically one building duplicated 15 times - they are all built on the same principle. We are importing approximately 100 000 cubic meters of material. We specified a G5 material, and it was all available in the vicinity."

"In Kimberly, the biggest challenge we face is the flat terrain. We have to lift the roads out of the ground, sometimes up to half a meter. To compensate, we have to raise the level of the erven next to the roads. We have to do this otherwise the sewerage and water just won't work."

"Storm water systems are very problematic for us. The only way to get the water away is to raise the roads so that you create the minimum slope required. To make sure the sewer doesn't go too deep, we make use of strategically placed sewerage pump stations. The sewer pipes usually don't go deeper than 5-6m, which is acceptable to us if you compare them to Northern Cape benchmarks."

MVD has just completed a development in Hopetown consisting of 100 RDP houses. Digging the trenches for the sewer pipes posed some interesting problems. "The municipality doesn't have mechanical resources, so they do the digging work with whatever they have, normally spades and jackhammers. It created a bit of a crisis as they hit limestone banks, which are layered. Blasting is extremely difficult as the blast seldom removes what was intended; it's just the nature of the material. The only way around this is to use jackhammers, and that is time consuming and really hard work."
  The depth of the trenches creates more problems. "As soon as the depth gets to 3.5m, it is dangerous for workers to be in there, so we have to taper the sides. To give you an idea of how flat it is, over a distance of 350m we only have a 900mm slope, which is nothing," he says.

The firm invests in Civil Designer training. "Civil Designer is an excellent design programme, and the training is really good. We recently benefited from the training on an 8km road project in Kuruman. We dug a series of test holes and divided the road up into sections and worked out separate layer-works for each chainage. Civil Designer really helped us with that; it saved us a lot of time. We created profiles for each section, for example we said from 0-400 the layer-works looks like that, and so on."

Most of the projects are of a similar size and difficulty. But there has been a boom over the last two years and the firm has been able to exploit the demand for housing in the region. There are also a number of big jobs on the order book for 2005. The demand is driven by a long awaited economic revival in the Northern Cape. "Two big shopping complexes are about to rise out of the dusty ground; both are more than 20 000m2. "There have been lots of legal issues on those but they are ready to go now and we are involved in both."

Local newspaper headline writers have enjoyed the one project. 'Waterfront to be built with no Waterfront,' trumpets the one ironically. "On that project we basically took the architectural designs, and did all the mass earthworks, creating a variety of slopes and levels to see what the cost implications were. That project has been subject to lots of changes and controversy, but they are now building about 26 000m2 of just retail space."

The second complex, situated on the Cape Town road, was also bedevilled by zoning and other legal issues. "This was finally approved late in December 2004 and building will start soon. We are involved with both these projects to different degrees. The Waterfront project is a small one for us, but the second one is a major project, and of course Civil Designer will be used to save us time and money."

The great sky that covers the huge area that MVD covers doesn't often have rain clouds decorating the endless blue. As you get out of the car, you are almost assaulted by the silence. It is deafening. Maybe thatís why Dirk speaks so quietly.

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