Jalle School

The Jalle School is Rebuild Sudan’s inaugural project. It satisfies the community’s wish to educate their children in a building that does not need to be rebuilt every time it rains. It incorporates cutting-edge engineering and design features that have the potential to change the way schools are constructed in South Sudan.

We had many motivations and principles in mind during the development of this project. First and foremost was to build a safe place for the children of Jalle, especially girls and orphans, to receive a primary education. To this end, we have designed a school to exceed the standards set by UNICEF’s Child Friendly Schools initiative. In addition, the building must also serve the greater community. The school includes a public library, computer center and meeting/performance space. Further, the building must be cost effective and environmentally friendly. As an example, the walls are constructed of stabilized earthen plaster using soil excavated for the latrines. Finally, for a people displaced by war, a permanent structure represents more than just shelter. It is a statement of belonging once again to their homeland and hope for the future.

The building will be the only permanent structure within 7 miles, and likely the only flood-resistant building in the region. It will serve as a community hub as well as a safe place for learning. Eight large, well lit and ventilated classrooms will accommodate up to 640 students in two sessions. Flexible furniture and solar lighting will also allow the space to be used for adult education in the evenings. A 6m x 36m (3100 square feet) assembly hall seats 320 for performances, meetings, lectures, and movies. The library can house 5000 volumes available to both students and community members. A computer center, located at the school entrance, will connect Jalle to the rest of the world and, perhaps equally important, function as an incentive for students to come to school regularly.

Total estimated cost of building the Jalle School: $303,500.


Design Notes

In a climate where daytime temperatures regularly approach 100º F (and no electricity available for air conditioning) the building could easily become uninhabitable. Because of this, sophisticated computer models were used during the design process to improve interior comfort. The building orients on an east-west axis and has large roof overhangs to minimize direct sunlight on walls and windows. The roof over the assembly hall provides shade for the classroom wings and clearstory windows draw heat up and out of the building. The school’s two entrances function as wind scoops, increasing air flow to the center of the building. A special roof design reduces solar radiation and blocks the noise from heavy rains.

Building at this location presents numerous challenges. Sudan’s infrastructure was devastated by 20 years of civil war, and building supplies are largely imported from Uganda making them very expensive locally. Even basic materials, such as gravel and cement are 10 hours away in Juba. The construction season is only 4 months long due to seasonal rains. The entire region is subject to localized flooding during heavy rains. The soil is expansive clay that can damage conventional foundations. Over 1,000 volunteer hours to date have contributed to finding viable solutions to this very complex puzzle. We invite you to explore the website further for details about our design solutions.

Site Challenges and Solutions

Challange: Access

The site is very remote and the only road into the area is typically impassable during much of the rainy season. Common materials, easily available in most parts of the world, such as stone, gravel, cement, brick, etc must be transported from Juba, nearly 10 hours away. A load of aggregate that in the states would cost $100, costs $1500 delivered to the site. Cement and concrete are similarly inflated, primarily due to transportation costs.

Solution: Prefabrication and Earthen Plaster

All structural elements will be prefabricated off-site using light gauge steel and shipped as a bolt together kit. Walls will be constructed using soil from the site stabilized with a small amount of latex and cement addmixture. The earthen plaster will be applied over expanded mesh, similar to applying stucco.

Challenge: Soil Conditions

The soil throughout the region is known locally as Black Cotton Soil. It is a member of the clay vertisol (expansive clay) family and is extremely difficult to build on. The top 5 feet of soil is in constant motion with the swelling and shrinking of the clay caused by seasonal rains. When dry, it is as hard as concrete, when wet it has the shear strength of mud slide. Typically, the top six feet (or more) of soil must be removed and backfilled with gravel to prevent cracking and buckling of the foundation and floor. However, due the the expense of transporting appropriate fill material, this is not an option. Alternatively, very heavy engineered concrete floors and footings can counter the pressures exerted by the swelling clay. Again, concrete is too heavy to be transported to the site efficiently.

Solution: Helical Piers

Helical Piers are not well known in the United States but are gaining popularity under difficult site conditions. They are essentially a steel shaft with a bearing-plate/auger at one end. They are screwed deep into the ground using hydraulic equipment. No concrete or excavation is required and the entire foundation can be shipped on one truck. This solution has another critical advantage – the system places the floor of the school above the seasonal flood plain.

Challenge: Climate

In addition to seasonal flooding, the region is subject to an extreme equatorial climate. Without careful planning, interior temperatures could easily exceed exterior temperatures as there is no electricity available for air conditioning.

Solution: Computational Fluid Dynamics

The design for the school looks deceptively simple and straight forward. Behind the scenes, however the building is working hard to keep its occupants as comfortable as possible. The design was tested and modified using sophisticated computer modeling software that allowed designers to predict how the building would perform on site. Extensive use of shading, high mass earthen walls, strategic insulation, cross ventilation and wind scoops, are all put into practice with this design.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why does the school cost so much compared to other projects I’ve heard about?

A: Building materials and transportation are major contributing cost factors. It is true that a school can be built in a developing country for comparatively little money if stone, wood, or other suitable material is readily available. Jalle, however, is on a very remote treeless plain and has few resources suitable for building a permanent school. For example, consider aggregate (small rocks), used for making concrete.   In the U.S., aggregate costs less than $100 for a dumptruck load.  In Southern Sudan, the same load of aggregate costs nearly $1,500 delivered to our site from Juba, 10 hours away. We have designed a cost-effective building using a prefabricated light-steel skeleton (similar to a pole barn) and earthen plaster walls sourced from site. Our construction costs are consistent with other projects in the region.

Q: I thought Africa was very poor. Why are things so expensive in Southern Sudan?

A: Since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, is one of the fastest growing cities and economies in the world. Demand for resources, fuel, and supplies far exceeds the ability of the country’s battered infrastructure to supply them. While labor is still a relative bargain compared to the developed world, in many cases services and material goods are much more expensive due to chronic shortage of supply.

Q: Why should I help pay to build a school in Jalle? Isn’t this the government’s responsibility?

A: The infrastructure of Southern Sudan was completely destroyed during 20 years of civil war. Few if any population could recover from such devastation without outside assistance. The Southern Sudanese government, United Nations, USAID, and other large organizations have relatively vast resources, but not limitless. Large scale projects, such as power, water, sanitation, and transportation cost billions of dollars to complete – and they are far from complete. Isolated, rural communities like Jalle won’t see many resources for quite some time. Small NGOs like Rebuild Sudan help fill this funding gap. For its part, the Jonglei state government is providing matching funds by way of paying for ongoing teacher salaries and supplies once the school is completed.

Q: Why does Rebuild Sudan need to raise the money by November?

A: November is the beginning of the short (4-5 month) dry season in Southern Sudan. Construction can only take place during this annual window. During the rainy season, the roads in the region become impassible and the construction site experiences localized flooding. If we don’t have the money raised to start construction in November, we will have to wait a full year before we can begin.

Q: Why the urgency? Can’t you wait a few years for better roads and lower material prices?

A: This is a critical time in the history of Southern Sudan. The stability of a newly independent South Sudan is largely dependent upon whether the population believes things will be better in the future. Access to education is a critical part of that equation. While one school cannot meet the demand, it can and will serve as a strong symbol of what is possible.

Q: Why are you building on a flood plain?

A: The area we are building in is situated on a very large, flat, flood plain, hundreds of square miles in area. This ecosystem supports the lush grasslands essential for grazing cattle, the livelihood of the Dinka people. Jalle itself is protected from Nile floodwaters by a dike system that was rebuilt by USAID in 2005-2006. While the population is protected from the Nile, water becomes trapped behind the dike during heavy rain events causing localized flooding. The result is standing water several inches deep over wide areas. The school itself will be elevated above the ground on a specially designed foundation.

Q:  I’ve never heard of a helical pier foundation. Why not just use concrete?

A: Concrete is prohibitively expensive to transport to our building site. In addition, the soil in the Jalle region is a type expansive clay that causes millions of dollars damage annually to concrete foundations in the United States. Helical piers are a unique technology that helped us solve many problems. They are compatible with clay soils and floodwater, easy and fast to install, raise the building above the flood plain, and are much lighter than concrete making them easier to transport to our remote site.

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