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Liberia Architecture

Liberia Education Projects


In 2008, Liberia was recovering from a long period of civil war and unrest and the problems encountered during my time working there are probably similar to other post-conflict situations.

I was asked by the World Bank to visit Liberia to provide technical assistance to the Division of Educational Facilities (DEF) of the Ministry of Education (MOE) and I made a number of visits in this capacity.

The main task of the DEF was to manage school construction programmes but it had been much run down during the years of unrest and at that point did not have the capacity to manage any sort of school re-construction programme let alone the very large one that was required.  There had been no large-scale school construction project since the early 1980s and the DEF did not have the experience, the resources or the managerial and technical expertise to manage such a programme.  It was even having problems in managing the construction of the one or two primary schools that the government had the funds to construct each year and no secondary schools were at that stage being contemplated let alone built. The DEF office was at that time rather ‘Dickensian’ with only one, very old computer in the director’s office and drawing boards with T-squares and set-squares for the use of the rest of the staff; all of the work I did there was done using this equipment!

Liberia’s primary schools had experienced massive destruction during the civil war years, there had been no major primary school construction project for nearly twenty five years, there had been virtually no maintenance or repair of school buildings and therefore extremely large numbers of primary school classrooms needed to be constructed, renovated, reconstructed or replaced.  A statistician working for UNICEF estimated at that time that the number of new classrooms that were needed to accommodate only 80% of 4 to14 year old children was around 9,769 which was the equivalent to around 1,600, 6-classroom schools.   This calculation took no account of the needs of the other 20% or of population growth and the real needs were undoubtedly far higher.

The numbers of classrooms required to be built or renovated could have been reduced by double-shifting primary schools where there were sufficient pupils to do so ie in the urban areas but the numbers of new or renovated classrooms that were required would still have been extremely large.

The cost of a new classroom was estimated at around US$17,000 (this was calculated by taking the cost of the whole school including other facilities such as offices, stores and toilets and dividing by 6) and the cost of constructing 9,769 classrooms would therefore have been approximately US$166 million!

The photo gallery below shows the poor quality of the few schools that were being constructed when I first visited the country.

Liberia Primary Education Recovery Programme

The MOE, together with a number of development partners, had developed the Liberia Primary Education Recovery Programme (LPERP) in March 2007 to meet the challenge, at least in part, of rebuilding Liberia’s primary school system.

LPERP was financed through the regular government budget and the Liberia Education Pooled Fund which was a multi-donor funding mechanism established by government and its development partners.  Infrastructure expansion and improvement was the largest LPERP component at approximately $23 million which was to be invested over the three years of the programme.

As seen above, the magnitude of the investment that would have been required to eliminate the infrastructure deficit was too large to be fully addressed in the three-year implementation period of LPERP and therefore the strategies, systems and approaches required for expanding and improving school infrastructure that were being developed through LPERP should have been such that they would enable the MOE to continue the required expansion post-LPERP in an efficient manner.

When I arrived in Monrovia in September 2008, no infrastructure work had been undertaken under LPERP in 2007/2008, the time available for infrastructure work in 2008/2009 was very limited and, if the targets were to be achieved, it was recognised that the programme would have to be extended into 2010/2011.

There were at that time two standard designs in use for primary schools and both designs had issues concerning their design, construction and cost and the same classroom designs were being used for pre-schools and primary schools even though the needs were quite different.  The standards for physical facilities that were contained in the MOE’s ‘Education Sector Operations Manual’ were also inappropriate and required updating.

There was not enough time to radically alter the design of the school buildings if any were to be constructed in 2008/2009 but some changes to layouts were made so that all rooms could be oriented to face north-south to avoid solar penetration and over-heating and to avoid complicated and expensive connections between buildings.  External connections and kitchens were also omitted.  I also made some proposals to simplify the design and construction and reduce the cost of primary schools to be constructed in 2009/2010.

Some schools that had new facilities under construction were also visited and the quality of the ongoing construction that was seen was very poor due to the lack of expertise of the contractors and the lack of technical supervision. See photo gallery and October 2008 report.

I went back to Liberia in December 2008 and produced a report that was intended to be a discussion document for the government and the development partners that described the situation that then existed with regard to the provision of primary school facilities, set out the scale of the problem to be faced in reconstructing Liberia’s primary school system and described the various strategies that could be adopted for the reconstruction programme.  It also made recommendations as to the future role of DEF in managing the construction of schools.

At the time of that visit, it was envisaged that forty 6-classroom primary schools would be constructed using my revised designs in 2008/2009 and a further sixty 6-classroom primary schools would be constructed in 2009/2010 although there was not at that time any funding available for the latter programme.  It was also proposed that the construction of the schools in the 2008/2009 programme would be managed by a local parastatal body that government had set up to manage community-based construction projects.  See December 2008 report.

I went again to Liberia in March 2009 in order to finalise proposals for the construction of primary schools.  It was by this time unlikely that any of the schools to be constructed that year would be finished before the rainy season started.  The implementation plans had also altered: only twenty schools were to be managed by the parastatal and the other twenty schools were to be managed by an international agency.  I have not mentioned the names of either of these agencies (and their names have been redacted in my reports) as neither of them performed at all well and I do not want to embarrass them unduly.  MOE was by this time seeking funding for the construction of sixty primary schools in 2009/2010.  See March 2009 report.

EFA-FTI CF Project

In late 2009, the World Bank decided to fund a new education project, the EFA-FTI CF Project and I returned to Liberia in September 2009 to assist the MOE and the World Bank in the design of the infrastructure component of this project.   I first carried out an inspection of the schools being constructed under the LPERP project and found a number of serious problems with the way that they were being managed and with the quality of the work.  There were serious problems with the quality of the work caused by the lack of experience and capacity of both the contractors and of the supervising staff from both agencies.  There were also problems caused by the inability of the contractors to price a bill of quantities, to get credit from either banks or suppliers and their inability to manage their advance payments.  See October 2009 Report and photos of the schools being supervised by a local parastatal and of the schools being supervised by an international agency.

It was proposed at this stage to construct ten pre-schools, eighty/ninety primary schools and six junior secondary schools under the new project and because of the management issues raised during the LPERP project implementation, I suggested that it would be necessary to use an international firm of construction consultants to manage and supervise the project (and provide on-the-job training for young Liberian architects and engineers).  For further details on the above see October 2009 report.

At this time USAID funded a US architect who had been working on the design and construction of a school for UNICEF near the border with Guinee, to provide technical assistance to DEF for a year and among other things, he produced working drawings for primary schools based upon my revised designs.  See Primary School Working Drawings.

I returned in May 2010 to provide further inputs into the design of the project particularly with regard to the provision of facilities for early childhood development.  There was now a new Minister for Education who requested that, instead of providing separate primary schools and junior secondary schools, some of these schools could be combined to form what he termed ‘Basic Education Schools’ and I developed accommodations schedules and preliminary designs for these.  There was an EC-funded primary school construction project in progress at this time (the ECSEL Project) using my revised designs for the schools.  I had discussions with the expatriate architect managing this project and visited one of the schools.  See May 2010 Report for details.  Revised and more detailed proposals for the new project that took into account the request for basic education schools were produced after this visit.  See EFA-FTI CF Project: Proposed School Construction Programme.

After this mission, the World Bank agreed to the construction of basic education schools as well as early childhood development centres and primary schools and to the contracting of an international firm of construction consultants to manage the project.  In 2012, I prepared the terms of reference for these consultants (see Civil Works Consultants TORs) and this document set out the school construction programme for the EFA-FTI CF Project: it explained how the construction programme was to be managed and supervised; what types, sizes and numbers of educational facilities were to be constructed and what the roles of the various parties to the construction programme would be.  It also gave final details of the facilities to be constructed.  I then advised DEF on the selection of the consultants and after that, for various reasons, my involvement in the project finished.

The consultants eventually started work in July 2013 and prepared final designs, working drawings and bid documents for the proposed schools (see Consultants Final Design Drawings).  The final construction programme for the project included the construction of twenty basic education schools, four 6-classroom primary schools, eight 3-classroom primary schools and eight early childhood development centres.  The Ebola outbreak started in March 2015 and the consultants declared ‘force majeure’ and left the country. The Liberian engineer working for DEF as a consultant led the team of local engineers trained by the consultants who supervised the completion of the project.

Project Achievements

Eventually forty 6-classroom primary schools were completed under LPERP.  They were not very well built (although it has to be said that some of the contractors tried very hard to produce good quality buildings with not much assistance from the supervisors) but they made some sort of contribution to the enormous primary school classroom deficit.

The EPA-FTI CF Project eventually completed nineteen basic education schools, three 6-classroom primary schools, seven 3-classroom primary schools and eight early childhood development centres were eventually completed.  The eight 3-classroom primary schools were all located in remote rural areas and the intention had been that these schools would be constructed by the communities with technical assistance being given by the consultants.  For reasons that are not known, this did not however happen and the schools were constructed by contractors.  I have only seen one of these schools and the quality of construction was much better than that of the LPERP schools and all of these schools must have made a positive contribution to the classroom deficit at the pre-school, primary and secondary school levels.


Lessons to be learned

There were a number of lessons to be learned from the implementation of the LPERP and ECSEL Projects and these included:

  • Contracts with management and supervision consultants must be drawn up so that the extent of their duties is clearly explained and agreed and the timeframe for carrying out their duties is adequate for the construction programme that is envisaged.

  • Experienced construction and management and supervision consultants must be engaged to manage and supervise the school construction programme as there was not the capacity to do this in-house in the DEF in the MOE (and this should not anyway be one of DEF’s tasks;

  • Management and supervision consultants must not be allowed to use inexperienced local staff to supervise construction contracts.  Staff must be properly trained before construction starts and adequately supervised during the construction process in order to ensure that they are carrying out their duties properly.

  • Management and supervision consultants must ensure that: buildings to be constructed by local contractors are simple to construct using materials that the contractors and their workers understand; the contract documentation is easy to understand; schedules of materials are used in the contract documentation rather than bills of quantities in order that contractors can easily price and order materials and that contractors are given adequate supervision and on-the-job training (including in managing their finances) as necessary in order that the buildings are constructed in accordance with the drawings and specifications.

  • Contractors should be pre-selected in order to ensure that they have the financial and technical capacity to carry out the jobs that they bid for.

The two most important lessons are 1) that the design and construction of the buildings should be appropriate to the local conditions ie the climate, locally available materials and the capacity of the communities or contractors who will have to construct them; 2) the contract drawings should be easy to understand and follow and 3) and probably most importantly, that competent and experienced supervision must be provided, preferably full-time, if inexperienced local contractors (or communities) are to be used to implement a construction programme.

It can be seen from the examples above what happens when these three factors are not taken into account: the project will end up with poor quality buildings that will require continuous and costly repairs and maintenance and have short useful lives.

As indicated in the ‘Project Achievements’ section above, the primary schools that were to be constructed using communities were actually constructed by contractors.  This was unfortunate as they could have formed a pilot project for the construction of pre-schools and primary on a much greater scale using communities.  There must still be a huge deficit of classrooms in the country and in my opinion, community-based construction is probably, give the limitations of local contractors, the only way to construct the large numbers of facilities that are required.  Such a programme would require careful management and extensive supervision (and a large amount of investment) but it would seem to be the best way forward.

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