Construction for Change: Marines to Engineer Hope in the Solomon Islands

How do you build in a place where termites are eating away existing public infrastructure?  This is the challenge for James Lloyd, a carpenter from the UK, who was sent to the Solomon Islands in February to build a two-story school building for the children of Tulagi Island.  James is a volunteer project manager for Construction for Change (CfC), a Seattle-based non-profit organization that provides professional construction services to organizations working to end poverty worldwide.  He will stay in the Solomon Islands as long as it takes to complete the project.

Tulagi residents and the U.S. Marine Raiders Foundation (USMRF) spearheaded the construction of the school.  The USFRF is an organization dedicated to sharing the legacy of the Marine Raiders, the first special operations unit in the U.S. Military.  The new school is a way for the USMRF to honor the citizens of Tulagi, who fought bravely alongside the Marines Raiders in WWII and ultimately helped to defeat the Japanese in the Pacific Islands.  The USMRF is fully funding the project, but has contracted out all construction management services to Construction for Change and its fearless project manager, James Lloyd.

James arrived to the islands about a month ago and it quickly became clear that the wood and concrete structure that USMRF and CfC were planning to build would not last more than 15 years due to termite damage.  As evidence, James relayed the story of the Tulagi hospital that was built by AusAID, the Australian government’s overseas aid program.  While it is beautiful and functional facility, the hospital has been so ravaged by termites that AusAID now has to rehabilitate it, just over a decade after its construction.

As a way to get around the termite problem, James started exploring advanced building technologies and other materials available on the island.  He soon learned about the Tongs Corporation located in Honiara, the capital city. About a two-hour boat ride from Tulagi, Tongs is a Chinese-owned building supply store that started manufacturing pre-fabricated steel structures a few years ago. Tongs’ innovative structures are ideal in places with chronic termite problems and are slowly gaining popularity in the capital city.  There is nothing like it on Tulagi island however…until now at least.

Pre-fabricated steel means that the new school building will now be substantially stronger and last three times longer than any existing structure on the island.  It is also much more eco-friendly than the original wood and cement design and will therefore generate less waste.  Moreover, steel is easier to keep level and plumb relative to bowed timbers; and it is much faster to build with less need for power tools, which are not readily available on Tulagi.

Back in Seattle, James has a team of engineering and construction experts who are guiding him through the process.  Among them is Dan Wachtler and Andy Marshall, former CfC Project Managers who together founded Wachtler Marshall Inc., a custom-home construction company.

For more information on Construction for Change’s work: