How a R300-million Afrikaans college was built under budget and ahead of schedule

Solidarity recently unveiled its impressive new R300-million Sol-Tech technical training college campus in Monument Park, Pretoria.

Sol-Tech, which was founded in 2007, is an accredited private tertiary institution which focuses on scarce practical skills.

Its full-time courses, which include daily lectures and training sessions, including qualifications for welders, fitters and turners, toolmakers, electricians, and millwrights.

It also has courses for diesel mechanics, tractor mechanics, and auto electricians, with plans to expand to more disciplines in future.

To accommodate its growth and future plans, Solidarity decided to build a new campus using monthly contributions from Solidarity members.

Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann described the campus as a remarkable achievement for the community.

“We are building an institution to empower the youth so that they can create wealth for themselves and for their community within South Africa,” said Hermann.

The new campus was built on a property initially purchased by Solidarity’s property investment arm, Kanton Investments.

The construction of the campus was the first big project the organisation had undertaken.

What makes the construction of the campus notable is the fact that it was completed under budget and earlier than planned.

To find out how this was achieved, MyBroadband spoke to Kanton Managing Director Henk Schalekamp.

Kanton Managing Director Henk Schalekamp

Schalekamp said Kanton Investments purchased the land on which the new Sol-Tech campus was built in an open auction in 2010.

However, due to political interference it had to battle the Tshwane Metro for rights to the property for seven years. It eventually won its case with costs in 2018, after which the project could formally begin.

Project planning included more than 1,600 architectural plans, 1,500 structural and civil plans, 1,350 electrical plans, and 100 mechanical engineering plans.

Construction on the campus started on 13 September 2019, with an initial completion date set for 1 December 2020.

Kanton Managing Director Henk Schalekamp (left), Solidarity President Steve Scott (second to left), and Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann (right) look on as Managing Director at Sol-Tech Paul van Deventer breaks ground at the campus on 13 September 2021.

The terrain used for the construction encompassed 30,719m², of which 27,000m² was usable.

Due to the characteristics of the soil on which the campus had to be built, a two metre deep excavation had to be dug and filled with material that would strengthen the ground for the building of structures.

During the peak of the construction, there were around 500 workers at the site and 20,000 bricks were laid per day.

On 140 separate occasions concrete-mixer trucks visited the location to cast 4,000 cubic metres of concrete.

For each visit, test samples were taken to laboratories to ascertain the integrity and strength of the concrete.

When faults were discovered the structure in question was scrapped and rebuilt.

Bricks bearing the names of various important contributors to the establishment of the Sol-Tech camps were laid in a wall at the campus in March 2020, just before South Africa went into COVID-19 lockdown.

As with the rest of the industry, Kanton shut down construction on the campus during the initial COVID-19 lockdown period in 2020.

“External work such as roads and storm water was stopped from 26 March 2020 until the 1 May 2020, and the internal construction of the actual campus development was stopped from 26 March 2020 to 1 June 2020,” Schalekamp said.

“The consequences of lock-down were not only loss of time on site but due to travelling restrictions labour living in other provinces could not immediately return to work.”

To ensure as little time as possible was wasted, the design development was completed during this period.

“All design details were ready the moment the contractors could resume with the project,” Schalekamp said.

He added that material shortages were also a challenge.

“We procured cement from retailers wherever we could find. There were also shortages in clay bricks, steel, and roof plates.”

Despite these challenges nothing stopped the development.  “We always found alternative sources when needed,” Schalekamp said.

At one point, side-mounted steel plating for the buildings was unavailable. The project faced serious delays because the buildings could not be closed off to add the indoor finishes.

Fortunately, Kanton was able to import the last 1,500m² of material needed from Namibia without an impact to the construction schedule.

Schalekamp said that due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the completion date for the project was extended to March 2021.

However, by the original date of 1 December 2020 the project was finished, in line with the original schedule and 40 days ahead of the new completion date.

That meant that it had taken Kanton less than 15 months to build the new Sol-Tech campus.

The campus currently includes seven workshops, classrooms for theory lessons, and a cafeteria with 400 seats.

There is also a 40,000-litre water tank and 600kVa generator to provide backup water and electricity in the event that supply from the municipality is cut off.

Some noteworthy facts around the parts which now comprise the campus include:

  • 160km of electric cabling
  • 8.5km of plumbing
  • 513 tonnes of steel
  • 9,459 m² of roof plating
  • 1.3 million bricks

Schalekamp said the company had achieved an estimated saving of 9% on the approved budget.

“The benefit of the saving will not be for better returns only, but also to the benefit of Sol-Tech as tenant,” he said.

“We constantly looked at expenses and managed it very tightly with the approved budget at hand.”

Schalekamp told MyBroadband that he believed three elements were key to the success of the project:

  • Culture

“Kanton believes in a culture of good work and business ethics. We believe that you can achieve these results only through quality and hard work, if you make decisions on merit, take self-responsibility for what you do, and by being creative in approaching challenges during the project.”

  • Teamwork

“We established a strong team of professionals who are all masters in what they do. They were not sensitive to respectful robust debate and constructive criticism.”

“Together they realised better more creative solutions to challenges than what they would in their silos of expertise.”

“They proceeded with this principle in the appointment of the main contractor and the result was a well-oiled and experienced team who delivered earlier and below budget.”

  • Cause

“All stakeholders involved were excited and motivated by the cause.”

“The development of a monument of hope, a new campus for Sol-Tech contributing to the Afrikaans community and South Africa was a great cause worthwhile giving a little extra for.”

Kanton’s next project is the development of a 400-bed student residence for Sol-Tech.

Schalekamp said the application for the necessary rights to develop this facility was well underway.

Kanton has also entered into a partnership to build a campus for Akademia – Solidarity’s private tertiary university which offers bachelor’s degrees.

“Within the next few weeks we will submit an application to the town council for the rights to develop a fully-fledged campus for Akademia in the east of Pretoria.”

“This is a big project and if all goes according to plan it will be completed within the next five to six years.”

Schalekamp said providing property solutions to the Solidarity movement was not Kanton’s only focus.

“We are also planning to develop schools and other property solutions for the Afrikaans community in Southern Africa in future,” Schalekamp said.

“As long as Kanton can honour the partnership between capital and culture, we will consider all potential opportunities.”

Below are images of the Sol-Tech campus. You can also click here to view a virtual tour of the facility.

Sol-tech campus inside

Now read: Here are the most critical tech skills in South Africa

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How a R300-million Afrikaans college was built under budget and ahead of schedule