Construction Timelines & Cause for Concern

News that National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC) has been identified as the contractor for all of the Project Sammaan facilities in both Bhubaneswar and Cuttack brought with it both an incredible sense of relief and a torrent of new work to accomplish all of the project’s required pre-construction activities prior to breaking ground on the first facilities.

I have written briefly in the past about these pre-construction efforts, but now that we have a contractor on-board we have shifted into the day-to-day planning that will be required to effectively, efficiently, and successfully pull off the construction of the 79 separate facilities in the initial phase of Project Sammaan. With all of the different organizations involved, and each with their own sets of needs and related challenges, the logistics of coordinating all individual efforts such that the collective goal of getting the facilities online as quickly as possible is not negatively impacted becomes an absolute paramount importance. And there are certainly a lot of moving pieces to this.

The first step is to get the contracts between NBCC and the municipal corporations signed. Once that is done, the research team can begin hiring and training the survey team (upwards of 60 people) to conduct the baseline research in the host communities; this process will take at least one month to complete. Concurrently, the engineering, architectural, and sewage management teams need to debrief NBCC and begin the handover process of drawings and related documentation (i.e., bill of quantities by site), making any necessary updates or revisions along the way. Once that is complete, NBCC will take around two weeks to identify builders to carry out the work in the field.

Once all the teams are ready to begin, the research team will take a week to clear the first communities. The community engagement team will follow closely behind to conduct the pre-construction dialogues with the host communities to ensure buy-in at the user level so that people not only understand what is happening (i.e., toilets facilities being built) but why it is important for them to use the facilities. It will take at least one week before these conversations are completed in the initial communities. Only once these two critical steps are taken can NBCC begin their construction-related work, beginning with dismantling existing, dysfunctional facilities.

While we have long had a handle on the required activities prior to commencement of construction vis-a-vis the project team including the government partners, what we have not had a clear window into is the constraints that builders face whilst working in Odisha, particularly with respect to weather. One significant learning, which is currently causing a great deal of stress, is the impact the monsoon and cyclone seasons have on projects with long-term timelines. Combined, these seasons effectively wipe out any construction between mid-June and the end of October, if not later.

Essentially, the key building months in Odisha are December-February, at least in regards to beginning work, particularly that which concerns facility substructures, which for Sammaan means the sewage management systems. If we are unable to start this work as early as possible in January, we run the risk of having to halt construction for upwards of five months during these rainy seasons.

The contract between NBCC and the Cuttack Municipal Corporation was signed on November 29th, and most of December has been spent scrambling to get everything in line for a kick-off of research activities by the week of January 5th at the latest. This would allow for NBCC to start building by mid-January, and give us a decent chance of having all of the facilities in Cuttack complete and operational ahead of the monsoons. Though this makes for an extremely tight window to work in, the team feels confident in our abilities to pull it off.

In Bhubaneswar, though, challenges regarding having the Administrative Approval for the community toilet facilities granted persist. This, in turn, continues to hold up the signing of the contract between NBCC and the BMC. Though seemingly a minor detail, without that contract being formally signed, all pre-construction activities remain on hold. Extrapolating the timeline in Cuttack to what we will inevitably experience in Bhubaneswar, even if we were able to sign the contract with NBCC today, construction activities would not be able to start until nearly mid-February. To put this another way, if we do not get the Administrative Approval in the coming days, we may very well lose all of 2015 for building Sammaan’s facilities in Bhubaneswar.

To their credit, and to that of the larger project team, our colleagues at the BMC have been firmly committed in following up on a daily basis with those at the H&UD and Finance Departments in an effort to expedite the Administrative Approval. We have had daily meetings over the past several weeks and pulled out all the stops in terms of outreach activities, including soliciting the help of other government officials not directly involved in Sammaan in hopes that their advocacy may be effective leverage at getting this approval while there is still time to salvage construction in 2015.

Regrettably, these efforts have yet to bear fruit, but it is reassuring to know that the government partners at the BMC are as committed to seeing Project Sammaan through as the rest of the project team is. Unfortunately, that will be of little comfort should we have to wait until the end of 2015 or beginning of 2016 before these communities receive the facilities they desperately need.

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