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Winning against the wind

Winning against the wind

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Durban – Covid has had various ripple effects: a lesser known one being forcing jobs most suitable in still weather to be done in the howling wind.

The painting and decorating of Chartwell Centre, in uMhlanga, was a case in point. Under normal conditions it would have been done during the months of mild weather.

Painting and decorating company Smith and Winfield needed to carry out the work from suspended scaffolding.

Winning against the wind
Painting and decorating expert Brian Ramsookbhai in front of the uMhlanga building, Chartwell Centre, which has regained its state-of-the-art status after 40 years and picked up awards. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad African News Agency (ANA)

“Because of Covid, we lost the opportunity for the calm period. Covid (lockdown) lifted and we were in the August to December windy season,” said project director Chris Brown.

The yellow face brick was state-of-the-art in the ’70s but had become outdated in modern uMhlanga.

Although it had been soundly engineered in design and well constructed, it was in need of a large amount of structural rehabilitation, said Brown, adding that it was located in “one of the harshest climates”.

Winning against the wind
Men at work high up on the scaffolding, on the job that gave a facelift to uMhlanga’s Chartwell Centre, where Brian Ramsookbhai was contracts manager.

“Subjected to winds, rain and salt deposits, signs of decay included falling mosaics, plaster and spalled concrete which posed a potential threat to the public,” he said.

“The extent of the repairs would have scarred the building.”

Today, Chartwell Centre fits in with its modern surroundings, with advice from DPA Specialist Consulting Engineers, and consulting architects Elphick Proome suggesting the new colour.

The job recently won the Master Builders’ category award for Special Projects and the Supreme Award for Excellence in Construction, where it was adjudged the best entry in all the categories.

Criteria included internal and external finishes; concrete structure and steelwork; environmental and greening initiatives; and contractor relationships.

Jobs had to have been completed after January 2020.

“When it was very windy, we couldn’t work up there,” recalled contracts manager Brian Ramsookbhai, a veteran painter and decorator used to working in winds at dizzy heights.

“With swing scaffolds (construction jargon for suspended scaffolding, an alternative to fixed tower scaffolding) the wind is very dangerous. The winds you get when you work on swings, they blow all over.”

However, special arrangements involving steel cables, attached to the building on every floor, were put in place to lessen the impact of the wind.

Brown said this was on the advice of Smith and Winfield’s structural engineer Nigel Murray-Rogers, who had seen work under such windy conditions in Edinburgh, Scotland.

“There was a lot of pressure to get things done quickly,” said Ramsookbhai.

“The challenge was that people were staying in those apartments. We had to remove the old sliding doors and replace them with new ones on the same day. We had to chop out the windows. Brickwork was loose and we had to reinstate it, and all this time the wind was blowing into the flats.”

It all had to happen with much sanitising, Ramsookbhai added.

Access to the workplace was through the flats that had to be sanitised as the team went in and out of them.

“It was not easy. There were old people there. We had to sanitise.”

The job went off incident-free.

Ramsookbhai, 63, who collected the award, is one of few painters and decorators on the sites as companies tend to lose many of those they train to the hospital, hotel or other industries, he said.

He entered the game after having to leave school early when his father, a dry-cleaner, suffered an injury and could no longer earn a living.

“As the eldest, I had to go out and find work. I started as a painter for someone my father knew, on the Bluff.”

In 1979 he completed his trade tests at Olifantsfontein.

His most epic memory of working in the wind was at a beachfront hotel when a fierce wind ”took the swing across to the other side of the building when it was about 60m up and the wind blew it from the west façade to the north façade”, damaging its motor as it smashed against the building.

Ramsookbhai said he had to open a small window and ask the crew on the swing to pass him something to catch.

“One guy took off his safety belt” and Ramsookbhai used it to pull the swing in towards the building.

Brown added: “This was one of the most rewarding contracts I have worked on in my 40 years in the industry, the transformation has been spectacular and it is a great comfort to have people like Nigel and Brian involved; the team has so much knowledge and experience.”

The Independent on Saturday

Original Article

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