A Journalist’s Perspective: A Day on the University of Central Asia Construction Site
The University of Central Asia’s School of Professional and Continuing Education (UCA SPCE) graduation ceremony – by the way, its 10th – similar to previous years was celebrated in a festive and colourful fashion. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the 200 graduates receiving their certificates from the UCA leadership (and it should be added that certificates were conferred not only to graduates, who came from GBAO, but also from the neighbouring provinces of Afghanistan) were glowing with happiness. Details of the ceremony is available in the UCA SPCE press release and, in the story prepared by our correspondent. As for me – I would like to relate my trip, together with a group of fellow journalists to the campus construction site in Khorog.
A day before the ceremony, I was informed that the construction managers were organising a press conference and a site familiarisation tour for journalists, I was very excited, for me it was not only an opportunity to write a story for our newspaper and website, but to also satisfy my interest in seeing the construction. When the award ceremony was over, a mini-bus took us – journalists from a number of mass media outlets – to Dashti Bolo Residential District. Hofiz Mirzonabotov and Shams Sharif – our guides during this tour around the campus – met us on the construction site in front of the administration office.
Our first pleasant surprise was that the construction managers placed the utmost importance on safety arrangements and precautions. All journalists received protective hats and vests. By the way, the construction site has colour codes for hats and vests. There are separate colours for engineers, construction workers, electricians, safety advisers and fire protection officers, and even for us – visitors. The hats also had some distinctive features – hats of some construction workers had crosses, meaning they could provide first aid in case of accidents.
Our tour began at the dining facility of the site workers. The spacious building had carefully arranged tables, at which several workers were having their meals. As our guides informed us, the dining facility was built four months earlier, and a tender to provide meals for workers was announced immediately after. It was awarded to Miren. Since then, the company has provided workers with high quality delicious meals. The contractor receives approval for the menu and diet before they cook. So far, all staff and workers have been pleased with the quality of food and services. The additional wing in the building has locker and shower rooms for site workers. According to Mirzonabotov, the number of workers recently grew (which is a good sign, of course), and at the moment, the building does not have enough space and lockers, therefore management launched the construction of additional premises.
Before the journalists were shown to the frontline of construction, they received a safety briefing. For safety purposes, there are foot walks, which lead to the ongoing construction zone to the campus dormitories (actually, these foot walks exist throughout the entire construction site). Not far from this zone, there are four premises, utilised by contractors’ representatives. Here, I should provide some information about them.
One of the University’s construction tender criteria stipulates that only qualified companies, with a chartered capital three times higher than the cost of the tender, can apply. Naturally, with such requirements in place, the ability of local companies to participate in tenders can be seriously questionable. By the way, the cost of the University campus exceeds USD90 million.
In this regard, this Aga Khan project has delivered an alternative approach, which is radically different from requirements of regular tenders. In order to enable more local companies to contribute to the construction, the number of tenders was increased to 40. In addition to Turas, a Turkey-based company, construction works for the University’s first phase (in total, there are seven such phases) is provided by three local companies. Participation in such a sizeable construction project will help local companies not only generate profits, but also – and this is even more important – engage as many local specialists as possible in the project, and obtain invaluable experience with delivering these works.
Among all activities on the entire construction site, we were most impressed with the construction zones of dormitories, academic building, laboratory, and students’ life building. These construction zones employ a large number of workers and machinery that work in a coordinated manner. When we arrived, a large number of workers were engaged in fixing reinforcing bars to the walls for the third floor. Neither bricks nor cement blocks were used for these walls that are made of reinforced concrete, which is produced at a nearby concrete plant, capable of producing 50 cubic metres of concrete grout. According to Mirzonabotov, for construction, they only use solid reinforcing bars, which are placed very close to each other, so the construction is capable of withstanding seismic activities of large scales. All visiting journalists especially were impressed by the general workers. It was obvious that they knew what they were doing, and were doing it with great eagerness. While photographing their work, I talked to one of them. He said that he learned how to be a reinforcement barrer while working on construction projects in Moscow. Now he works in his home village, and is quite happy with his working conditions.
In general – as presented on a board, located in the first building – the construction project employs about 400 local workers, who operate in two shifts. Before the Turkey-based company began its operations, UCA’s management stipulated they would have to engage into its operations as many local workers as possible. So today, local specialists even hold some engineering-related positions. About 90 percent of general workers and specialists are locals.
Here it is important to describe the rooms for future students. Rarely, do educational institutions offer such spacious rooms; and that too, a room shared by two students. For now, the rooms have only load-bearing walls, but once construction is completed, each room will have a bathroom, partitions and all things, necessary to facilitate students in their studies. This is another major concept of UCA – only when students are provided with all necessary conditions, they will be able to dedicate their energy and focus to education, and achieve good results. During our entire tour through the dormitory, we were escorted by two safety officers.
The third floor was high enough to provide a good view overlooking the larger part of the construction site – carefully arranged foot walks, access roads for construction machinery, as well as bulks of gravel and sand. Over the course of the earthworks, all excavated and cut-off soils were brought to one collection point, where a stone-crusher was assembled. The stone-crusher produced gravel and sand in abundance. At the moment these materials are used for a small batching plant. Impressive zero-waste arrangement! In some places we could see larger rocks, and Shams Sharif explained that the designers were tasked to preserve the initial landscape where it was possible, thereby creating distinctive local features – modern buildings surrounded by typical local nature. The designers preserved the greenery, which was located not far from the dormitories. Once the construction is completed the students will be able to stroll in the garden, as well as engage in sports nearby, the construction of which is already completed. Managers of the construction project in Khorog, as well as managers, based in Naryn, Tekeli and Bishkek can check in on progress through video cameras that are placed around the site. After the dormitories, we visited the laboratory and the students’ life centre. The centre will have facilities for both, study and entertainment.
When we progressed through the academic building, Dr Bohdan Krawchenko, UCA Director General, was waiting to receive us. Nisar Keshvani, Head of Communications and Marketing Department, invited him to the site specifically to meet the media, to allow us to obtain necessary information, first hand. Dr Krawchenko advised that according to the initial Phase I construction plans completion was expected by 2018. However due to good planning and coordination of works, as well as comprehensive execution, the team is now ahead of schedule. As of today, completion of this phase is scheduled for September 2017.
By this time, the University will be able to admit its first students. The first two academic programmes, offered at the Khorog Campus, will be Earth and Environmental Sciences and Economics, as well as Computer Science and Communications and Media, offered in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan. Students pursuing arts and sciences will have a choice between the two campuses. Dr Krawchenko also pointed out that the university – taking into account its respectable status – will admit students with good academic results. However, as evidenced by analysis, today potential students have gaps in their knowledge of languages and mathematics. Eventually the University will launch research programmes, so UCA students and graduates will have to meet academic requirements. According to Dr Krawchenko, one of the positive aspects is that even before construction works began, UCA opened its School of Professional and Continuing Education, which has helped thousands of students obtain various professions and skills. He believes in future, the School will expand its operations as not everyone will pursue university education, as society requires specialists of other professions. And this training will be provided by UCA SPCE.
We didn’t realise we spent about four hours at the campus. Every aspect was very interesting, and filled us with optimism. Of course, I have not been able to cover everything in one article. But I think that from now on, we will regularly provide our readers with updates on construction progress. After all – as Nisar Keshvani, Head of Communications and Marketing, assured us – the University aims to ensure its public engagement is organised in the best way possible, which why the University invited journalists to the construction site. People from the local community have pinned significant hope on UCA, and these hopes are beginning to come true.
Amon MARDONOV, Impuls
Reprinted and translated with permission from author