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IT Annex Build

September 11, 2012

So, it has taken me a while to get back to the keyboard, but if I don’t get this written, the wife will continue to hound me…

This latest build project was necessitated by MAF needing to move out of TASOK (The American School Of Kinshasa).  We had maintained an IT presence there for a long time, including providing VSAT to the campus.  Not too long ago, they secured a massive grant to put in their own dish, and we became cold product.  This year our office was eyeballed as the perfect location for their new full-time guidance counselor and that was the last nail in the proverbial coffin.

On the upside, moving the VSAT to our own property provides us with the highest level of physical control and gets the dish to the same site as our main radio tower (see The Pylon).

Me Tarzan, you Jane

The site started out as a sloped back yard with a 20 year old compost pile and a stand of (non-productive) banana trees.  Shortly before Nick headed to Canada, we took the trees out and got the sentenals started on leveling the build site

Nestor and Excellence starting on the foundation trench

We decided to sub out the masonry, the mason, Leopold, has done numerous projects for us before, and works full time as a sentenal at the Burton’s.  He does good work, and gets the job done quick and right.

Leopold setting the foundation

The soil on site is very sandy, so we had to go pretty deep to get a good foundation.  My initial thought was to put in a floating slab with an apron to support the walls, but we ended up going local style with a block foundation and a poured floor.

Prior to setting the foundation, I put in the lower half of the VSAT mast, as well as the service conduit for data and power.  This all got poured into a roughly cubic meter of reinforced concrete, poured to the height of the foundation – enabling the mast to ascend close to the exterior wall, yet sit in the middle of the block.

That concrete was all mixed by hand in a wheelbarrow – uff da

Trench for power/data conduit

Once the foundation was in, the blocks went up pretty fast.  We built up to the level of the door lintel, then poured in a concrete bond beam to tie everything together.  It helped having no window openings!  I was/am pretty appalled at the quality of the block here, it has very little cement, no aggregate, and will break if handled roughly.  It really has little structural value and if we were building any larger, we would have had to pour concrete corner columns (instead of stack-wall) and just used the block for infill.

First row in place

Starting to look intentional

Walls ready for the bond beam

Forms in place

After the lintel, we only had a couple rows of block to finish, so I had Leopold set angle iron brackets into the wall.  These I would use later to attach the ceiling supports.  Once the wall was at full height, I set the roof beams on the supporting walls, and used expansion bolts with angle iron brackets to tie them in place.  The local method is to spike them in with rebar, or tie them down with rebar tie wire – I found the bolts far more simple and quite a bit stronger.  The beams are treated with creosote (slathered on by hand) and the rest of the wood got a healthy rubbing of used motor oil.

First row on top of the lintel/bond beam

Good shot of the walls, with the bond beam and ceiling brackets

Close up of ceiling and roof beam brackets

Working with the wood was a real challenge – it is rain forest fresh and crazily warped.  Even so, I was able to get a ceiling grid in and stepped it up a notch by tying the middle of the grid to the roof beams with more angle iron.  I am hoping this keeps the ceiling from sagging over the years.

Ceiling grid with hangars

The entire building was coated with a layer of mortar, locally called “cripsage”.  This helps protect the weak blocks from damage, and provides a paintable surface.  I wanted to keep out as much dirt as possible, so the only ventilation blocks went above the ceiling line.

The cripsage layer

I got the roof on and Nick was nice enough to go over it later and finish the nailing as well as to cut the rafter tails.  With a good coat of paint, everything was looking pretty smart.

Hiding in the banana trees…

I decided to do a scratch built door and frame.  I could have subbed this out as well, but the price starts at $200, and I figured I could do it better for cheaper.

I first built an angle iron frame that I expansion bolted to building – the bolts shooting through anchor straps over the mortar joints.  I also put two bolts straight down into the floor and two into the concrete lintel (not shown here).  The way I designed the frame created a low threshold and allowed the lower angle section to be almost completely covered by the tile floor.  This done, I built the door frame and door to fit.  The door is built out of formed sheet metal called “bottle profile” that allows sheet metal to slip inside the hollow frame.  The stuff is a pain to weld because I don’t have mig or tig here, and the lowest arc settings just want to blow holes.  I ended up stick welding it with a piece of scrap metal in one hand to use as a filler.  Crude, but effective.  I chose rivets to secure the metal panel as an alternative to tack welds – not just for strength but also to achieve the bank vault/dungeon look.  Once the door hinges were welded in the frame, I (with help from Nestor), got the whole shebang level and plumb, and stitched it into the iron frame on the doorway.  I am pretty sure you could pull the trailer hitch off of a truck with this thing.

Framed door opening

Threshold, anchors, and tile floor

Door ready for rivets

After some tweaking to get the door to function smoothly, I was once again blessed by the precision craftsmanship of David Francis (along with his arsenal of tools) – who did a smashing job of getting the handle/latch/lockset installed.  With the cripsage over the top of the bolts and straps, the finish looks good and you can’t even see the massive amount of reinforcement and welding.

Door finished and painted

With the ceiling in and the interior paint finished, as well the tile floor down (side note, local method for tile floors is to float it on a mortar bed…weird) we were able to start on interior finish work.

Having previously run a hefty power cable over to the main house panel (all three phases), I started the interior wiring and installed the interior and exterior AC units, relying on David to service and charge the system.  Nick came out and helped get the interior wiring completed, with some help from Pierre as well.

Boring picture, but this is one of the sweet 12v led lights we can get here in town. Equivalent to a 60W incandescent and only consumes around 1 amp!

On move day things started running roughly.  The cables did not pull well and we got behind schedule finishing up little details.  We did however manage to get the cables down from the TASOK tower and move over the vast majority of the equipment.  Saturday morning, as scheduled, the TASOK truck showed up to move the dish.  It was very nice to be able to move it in one piece – saving a lot of time and effort.

Back on site, David Francis (with some help from Rod) cleaned and waxed the dish (it seriously had fungi growing on it) while I welded the upper pole section into place (once again, with some help from Rod).  The mount bracket in place, it was all-hands to lift the dish into place (thanks Manny!).  Two and half hours from dish-on-site to dish-in-place!  Not bad!  I spent the next couple hours pulling cable with Pierre, while Avuta got the dish connected and Nick started the physical set up of the servers.  By shortly after three, the VSAT was live, and we simply needed to plug in.  I think I left around 5pm as Pierre and Avuta were finishing up… and we had internet back on line by 5:30!

Not too shabby

The install looks pretty sweet coming around the corner into David’s back yard…

Oh that? That is just for my satellite TV…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tally permalink
    September 11, 2012 0829

    Impressive amount of quality work done!! Looks great.

  2. Kathy permalink
    September 12, 2012 0829

    What a blessing you are to MAF there!

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