Developing Economies

New Estimate To Build A School In Haiti: $143,900

Tim Myers measuring the subpar foundation at the school site.

hide captionTim Myers measuring the subpar foundation at the school site.

Haiti School Project

Regular listeners/readers remember that Planet Money reported a story about a school for very poor children in Haiti.

Listeners donated $3,000 to help rebuild the school — that's more than the average Haitian earns in a year. Later, we reported on how that money did very little: It left the school with just a subpar foundation and no hopes for growth.

Two Planet Money listeners, Tim Myers and Fred Ireland, were so moved by the two stories they decided to take it upon themselves to have the school built.

They recently returned from a trip to Haiti to go over plans with the school staff. Tim sent Adam this note and we thought it would be worth posting some excerpts. Bottom line: Tim now thinks it will cost more than $140,000 to build the school.

Hey Adam,

It was a great trip. I learned a lot and made some very helpful contacts. ...

The two days of meetings at the school were fruitful. I know the principal and teachers are eager for something to happen. The first day was fun going over the plans and then taking a walk around the village and meeting with the ladies at the rice storage and drying building across from the church.

The second meeting day was very stressful and full of tension. We got into the difficult issues like telling them the foundation had to come out, and asking if we could take down both of the older buildings on the site. The principal gave the OK for the oldest building to be torn down but the second one must stay, as it is his home. This is understandable.

The site is complicated because of the adjacent buildings and street frontage and a foundation that isn't acceptable. Sometimes I ask myself is it worth it.

On the way back we stopped at Zoranje. Zoranje is a model community of sorts, new school and apartment buildings. The attraction for us was a home building competition by different businessmen from in Haiti and outside Haiti. It appeared most of the products were from the states with Haitian Partners. Lots of homes were panel types of all kinds; some steel, some wood, earth bag, you name it. I think maybe one concrete block home, the natural building material for Haitians. They make cement and concrete block in Haiti why not improve on what they know how to do in place of importing new materials and techniques. There are plenty of examples of failed attempts to force new building techniques on 3rd world countries.

So Zoranje brought more tension to the project. Part of our vision is to help local tradesmen utilize local materials and to train them in earthquake and hurricane construction using their local materials. Now we need to look at importing a structure in a container because it might be less expensive.

Tuesday we also went to the big Home Depot and scoped out other material stores. Prices didn't seem that bad but yes more expensive than here.

So when I heard what happened to the $3K [that PM listeners donated for the school last year, which resulted in a subpar foundation and no school], I figured how hard can this be, pony up another few thousand and get it done. After my web research before my January visit I figured it would be about $30K. After the visit I doubled it to $60K. When I started getting some labor costs and material costs I bumped it to $110K. I mean it is only 3000 square feet, no plumbing, basically no electrical, just concrete and block. The engineer for Architecture for Humanity told me he hears costs ranging from $700 to $1200 per square meter, that transfers to about $65 to $112 per square foot.

OK, bottom line I bumped the cost to $143,900. I guess I fit your typical contractor now. At least I'm raising the number before we start.

Re-entry to the states is hard. The disparity between the poor and rich is so huge in Haiti and the rich seem so insulated from all the suffering there.

I want to get the school done even though it seems so insignificant in the big scheme of things in Haiti. More importantly now I want to make sure the school can sustain itself.

You can learn more about Tim and Fred's school project on their website.

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