Compressed Earth Bricks (CEB) which can reduce cost by between 20 and 40% in the construction of Agenda 111 health facilities has been ditched, squeezing the manufacturers engaged to supply the bricks into serious financial crisis.
The manufacturers imported at least 20 specialized machines and accessories with average price of each machine pegged at over $45,000 depending on its capacity.
Sell personal assets to pay them off
By unilaterally substituting compressed earth bricks with sandcrete blocks, the manufactures who contracted bank loans to invest say they cannot service the loans and will be forced to sell their personal assets to pay them off.
Carbon footprint reduction opportunity lost
Aside the cost savings, the use of the bricks will help reduce Ghana’s carbon footprint to attain sustainable development goals on climate change and achieving carbon neutrality.
5 compressed earth bricks manufacturers
Five compressed earth bricks manufacturers were officially recommended to the contractors to supply across the country and were engaged by project managers- Hospital Infrastructure Group.
200,000 bricks per site
It is estimated that each project site will need about 200,000 bricks.
GH₵700,000 to GH₵1m cost of bricks per site
The contracts signed between compressed earth bricks manufactures and building contractors of the hospitals will range from GH₵700,000 to GH₵1,000,000 per site.
However, there are approximately three to four building contractors on each site; hence the above figure will be in different pieces of contract.
600, 000 bricks supplied to about 4 sites
Approximately 600,000 pieces of bricks have been supplied to about four sites only nationwide at the time of termination.
Meeting on risks
A letter dated March 30, 2023, from Hospital Infrastructure Group (HIG) signed by Kwabena Nyarko, said a meeting with consultants and contractors held between March 15 and 20, 2023, stated that compressed earth bricks was identified as major completion risk.
The letter which was copied to the Presidential Advisor on Health therefore instructed the use of sandcrete blocks to expedite progress to achieve project completion.
Manufacturers reject outcome of meeting
However, the manufacturers strongly opposed the conclusion reached at the said meeting which suggests that the manufacture of compressed earth bricks and its installation is the only project completion risk and therefore the specification ought to change.
The manufacturers argue that they were not invited to the said meeting and therefore the conclusion reached was inaccurate.
The meeting was held with contractors and supervising consultants of HIG.
As per the suppliers, the building contractors never wanted to use the compressed earth bricks and deliberately did not engage the manufacturers.
They alleged that this was done to delay the project and cause the failure of the implementation of the compressed earth bricks in the construction of the health facilities, and with every innovation it comes with.
Manufacturers request for meeting ignored
The compressed earth bricks manufacturers wrote to HIG in a letter dated April 21, 2023 and its assigns for a hearing but said HIG and its assigns ignored them but rather shifting responsibility to the contractors and supervising consultants.
Directives being flouted
In the said letter of HIG ‘cancelling’ the use of compressed earth bricks, the directives given which stated that no hospital should have a mix of the alternative material (cement block) has been flouted on about three sites with approval from HIG.
Also, the directive that if financial commitment has been made, compressed earth bricks should continue was not adhered to at least one site, where the building contractor had reverted to cement block in lieu of compressed earth bricks.
It is important to note that three different contractors utilised the compressed earth bricks entirely for their projects and have made a great deal of progress nearing completion, whilst the others are behind.
The manufacturers pointed out that if compressed earth bricks were a completion risk the others who are excited by this cancellation should have completed their structures but that is not the case.
In their view, this clearly shows that it is a deliberate attitude put up by majority of the contractors who from the beginning wanted the use of compressed earth bricks cancelled.
Manufacturers identify challenges causing delays
According to the manufacturers, the delay in the completion of the project is as a result of other factors other than the proposed challenges of the compressed earth bricks.
Bureaucratic system takes months to grant approval
In their assessment, one major challenge of the project is the bureaucratic nature of the approval system (whether compressed earth bricks or roof or any other specification) within the management structure.
The manufacturers noted that often, samples and major items such as compressed earth bricks which are in good shape, needed approval but took months before the approval was given.
Late engagement by contractors
They revealed that contractors did not engage compressed earth bricks manufacturers at the beginning stages of the project.
Against the advice of Supervising Consultants, the manufacturers said most contractors delayed their procurement schedules and since compressed earth bricks are long lead items and involves quite a number of processes, a considerable amount of time was needed to successfully carry out production.
No feedback to proposal
The manufacturers said they submitted proposals to contractors under the Agenda 111 Initiative as far back as eight to twelve months ago but no feedback was received.
Lack of funds
According to them, the contractors found it difficult to mobilise compressed earth bricks manufacturers to begin production on site and some of the reasons were lack of funds.
The manufacturers assumed that considering the cost of compressed earth bricks, its installation and its finishing possibly caused the boycott of its use in the project by contractors because it was not a high profit venture as they have been expecting much higher profit margins.
For the manufacturers, the compressed earth bricks is a major characteristic of the project, hence resorting to the use of an alternative material as proposed sets a bad precedent for subsequent specifications that may not be favourable for contractors.
They even proposed to supply compressed earth bricks to contractors ready and willing to provide funds to the selected sites done with internal block work and roofing within 20 days to ensure the successful completion of the project within the proposed timeframe.
This was not responded to or accepted by HIG.
Cancellation sets bad precedence
They also asserted that the decision to cancel this sets a bad precedence for this project and any future government project as stakeholders who do not agree on a particular specification will not engage and frustrate its implementation.
Benefits of compressed earth bricks
The bricks are the identity of the design of Agenda 111 hospital and without it, the buildings are just a normal one storey building with no identity.
These benefits will no longer be achieved because project managers- Hospital Infrastructure Group (HIG) has substituted the use of compressed earth bricks and opted for concrete blocks.
Compressed earth bricks do not undergo baking using fired up oven like burnt bricks; hence the process of its manufacture is eco-friendly.
The use of bricks does not require mortar joints and beds as they are dry-stacked against each other.
The bricks are pressed into shapes that interlock with each other hence no need for mortar joints.
Its finishing does not also require plastering and therefore, further reducing cost of construction.
It is a more sustainable and climate friendly alternative material for construction.
It reduces cost and time of construction by 20 to 40% compared to traditional cement technology.
Its finish does not also require plastering and therefore further reducing cost of construction.
There is also no need for formwork for columns (pillars) as the rebars are placed in the perforations in the bricks and strengthened with concrete if structural columns or pillars are needed in the structure.
The bricks are cured using water and shade and hence does not rely on the fired up furnaces which use firewood from our forest, depleting it.
The bricks are typically stronger than conventional masonry as it uses hydraulic pressing rather than vibratory or hand compression.
For this particular project the compressed earth bricks strength specified and produced are higher than the conventional masonry.
It has a high thermal insulation and the walls do not easily transfer outside temperatures to the interior, hence leaving the rooms cool.
This means the buildings overall cost on cooling is technically reduced by 50%.
Walls built with bricks perform better in preventing sound from the outside to inside.
All Mechanical Electrical and Plumbing conduits are embedded in the perforations in brick and hence no need to chisel and insert.
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