Wednesday, March 28, 2018

March 28: Cost Overruns That We Are Proud Of

As always, I'd be a fool not to begin with the donation link.  We'll be continuing to accept donations for the foreseeable future, though the exact link will change on April 1st.

With any sort of construction project, cost overruns are the major fear.  A quick web search can yield any number of warplanes that cost a few billion dollars more than anticipated.  Boston's infamous "Big Dig"  was slated to cost $2.8 billion, but came in a half decade late at $14 billion (and $22 billion including interest paid).  When we undertook the first Kimbondo building project a year ago, I was skeptical that we could really build two brand new bedrooms, two small bathrooms, and a sprawling outdoor patio for the original estimate of ~$25,000.  

In fact, Madlen and crew were able to get all the work done in less than two months (and with a few additional flourishes) for $27,000--despite the rampant inflation and non-existent infrastructure of the Congo.

In our current Phase II Projects, we have run into a couple of unexpected costs.  But we are very proudly giving a transparent accounting of virtually every dollar spent.  (I say "virtually" as the type of accounting that we aim for in the United States isn't quite possible in a place like Kinshasa.)  I'll start by inserting the spreadsheet I was sent today from Dean and Madlen which indicates all expenditures incurred to date (now that the bathroom part of Phase II has been funded) and indicates where the overruns occurred.

Click to Enlarge

Our initial estimate was ~$12,500.  You'll see that the final cost was $16,733, or about $4,000 more than we anticipated.  These overruns can be loosely divided into two major categories--ones incurred by choice and ones foisted upon us.  We'll get the Foists out of the way, since no one really likes to contend with Foists.

There is one major and a couple minor areas of Foist.  The major one is that we had not anticipated the costs of removing (safely and environmentally soundly) over two decades' accumulation of sewage. As often noted, the septic tanks had been overflowing.  It turns out that three trucks (@ $380 each)  had to be hired to transport the sewage from the premises and for each truckload an additional $120 was needed to treat it. Not much to be done about this $1,500 expenditure.  The minor unaccounted for costs included between $300 - $400 related to purchasing and installing doors and $350 to pay the local project manager, a Congolese man named Papa Biya. This man has been a miracle worker at Kimbondo for years and was also the primary doer behind the first project.  I am no authority in the matter, but I am very convinced that this is a very, very fair additional payment for all that he's done.

The rest of the cost overruns were of choice and were the result of on-the-ground decisions made by Madlen and Dean.  From today's email from Dean:The additional costs result from the wall tiling and floor tiling of the dining/living room, the wall tiling and floor tiling of the hallway, the construction of the back porch, the construction of the laundry/clothes storage room on the back of the house, and the costs involved in removing the old sewage.  In addition, since we had the workers and materials there, we are constructing a cement ping pong table in the front of the house that will provide recreation for kids not only in Foyer, but also the other houses in the orphanage.

In short, the decision was made to add the following to the initial part of Phase II:

  • the wall and floor tiling of the house's dining room/living room (which have apparently made a huge differences in terms of aesthetics and sanitation)
  • the building of a back porch (which involved roofing sheets and electrical wiring)
  • the addition of a clothes storage and laundry room (which will, we hope, soon house an industrial-strength washing machine, eliminating the need to wash 75 sets of clothes by hand).
  • the construction of a cement ping pong table!

The bottom line is that we ran into about $2,500 more in costs than we'd expected, and added about $2,500 in additions to the original plans.  (Some of this is offset by Price Rebel Madlen getting a major discount on the tiles that we used).  I'm not able to see it myself this time, of course, but I have complete faith in the decision making of Dean and Madlen.  Once more from Dean:

I know that this has gone beyond the original toilet project, but the result has been an almost new looking house that is very functional and has such a nice feel to it, both with looks and smell!

And adding to the poignancy, Madlen reports that Foyer House is now known across the 700+ resident compound as "La Maison Blanche"--"The White House".  I know, right?...

So, here's where we stand:
  • The bathrooms (and the add-on projects--laundry room, renovated dining area, back porch, and ping pong tables) will end up costing ~$16,700.  I am waiting for confirmation, but it's my understanding that this work will all be completed within the next week to ten days.
  • Thus far, we have raised $18,651.  Thus, the first part of Phase II has been fully funded.  It's done. Thank you.
  • We are currently sitting on a surplus of ~$2,000.  I know of an additional $1,000 that has been pledged, plus a few other sources of anticipated revenue that will likely add up to at least another $1,000. 
  • The second part of Phase II involves dramatically renovating the older Foyer House bedrooms.  While these two bedrooms are functional, they are worn down and still very crowded (despite now housing 40 between them instead of 75 a year ago).
  • Madlen is proposing two versions.  One would introduce light- and -air-producing windows and a general overhaul of the room as it exists.  She's giving a six thousand dollar estimate.  We are already a third of the way to covering that expenditure, and as noted above I have reason to feel confident that another third of it is essentially secured.  If worst comes to worst, I'm committed to making up the difference with money left by Bob and Gay.  The old bedrooms will at least get a nice upgrade.
  • But the dream?--Doing all of the above and also installing lofts, essentially doubling the number of beds available and increasing the living space.  The price tag to that looks like an additional $6,000.  This may be beyond our means. But maybe not.  We are about to embark on a final round of aggressive (oh, that sounds wrong--make it "assertive" fundraising) to see if we can entice some new donors and procure additional help from the old ones.
I'll use these photos again--and provide much more info about Phase IIB--in a later update. But it seems appropriate to close by providing an indication of how cramped the older Foyer House bedrooms are.  Mind you, these kids are more than simple "victims".  They laugh and love and enjoy life, despite the hard hands they've been dealt.  But space and resources are scarce and Madlen is very clear how much it would mean to them to enjoy a bit more comfort.

We've made something good happen here. From Madlen, Papa Biya, Dean, and the workers on the ground, to close friends of ours of whose donations we are aware, to the dozens of other names behind generosity of which we are not specifically aware, I feel like we've formed a fleeting community of good will and resistance against some bad forces out there.  

I'll close with David Byrne's most finely tuned words:  "Never for money and always for love".

Oh, and fuck fascism.

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