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REZDM Project - Soufriere Primary School

Soufriere Primary School directly after Hurricane Maria (September 2017)
Soufriere Primary School directly after Hurricane Maria (2017) Soufriere Primary School directly after Hurricane Maria (2017) Soufriere Primary School directly after Hurricane Maria (2017)
Environmental Resilience Program
Soufriere Primary School rehabilitation


During Hurricane Maria in Dominica, the main building of the Soufriere Primary School sustained major damage to its roof and subsequently experienced extensive water damage. The grounds were also flooded when the perimeter wall was topped by mud, water and collapsed trees carried downstream by the flooding river.

REZDM presented a project to the Minister of Education to rebuild the school with the objective of making it resilient and has been working closely with the local Parliamentary Representative with the objective of having the fully rehabilitated school ready to receive the eighty local students in a comfortable environment that is conducive to learning.

Soufriere Primary School

On September 4 2019 the children from Soufriere, Scotts Head and Galion moved back into the Soufriere Primary School for the first time since Hurricane Maria in 2017. There was great excitement in the community for this important step for the children, parents and especially for the teachers and principal who were relieved to move out from their temporary, challenging teaching environment into their entirely refurbished and improved school.

To make sure that the end result of the project would accomplish all of its goals, throughout the project REZDM consulted with the Ministry of Education, the Principal, the teachers and the parents to take into consideration the various needs for a new and improved space providing inspiring learning conditions.

The new Soufriere Primary School (September 2019) The new Soufriere Primary School (September 2019) The new Soufriere Primary School (September 2019) Opening Day at the Soufriere Primary School (September 4, 2019) Soufriere Primary School during construction Soufriere Primary School during construction Soufriere Primary School during construction Soufriere Primary School during construction Soufriere Primary School during construction Soufriere Primary School during construction Soufriere Primary School during construction Soufriere Primary School during construction

Although the children and teachers are returning to the same physical location, the buildings composing the Soufriere Primary School are now very different from what they were prior to Hurricane Maria.

The Soufriere Primary School has been an important project for the REZDM team and we are very happy to be able to turn the keys over to the Ministry of Education and the community of Soufriere.

Resilient objectives

Besides restoring and providing new stimulating facilities for education the underlying REZDM objective behind this project was to provide these educational facilities within a resilient approach and design. Different scenarios were evaluated before starting design and construction for the project, including the demolition of the old damaged main building and replacing it with a new building.

However, building resilience is not just writing off the past it also involves finding ways to give a new resilient life to preexisting buildings and facilities that have been part of the community for a long time. REZDM started this project on that premise.

Even though the main building of the school was seriously damaged by hurricane Maria and had become unusable, our analysis of the masonry perimeter walls was that they were still solid and repairable. However, because these walls were not originally made to support the heavy additional loads associated with a standard cast concrete slab roof, we decided to use a different approach for the new school roof. We used a design based on a traditional wood roof structure but constructed using untraditional, modern resilient materials.

One of the advantages of this approach is that by using a design based on traditional roof construction methods already known by the construction workers in Dominica there is no need for specialized training or the use of heavy equipment like cranes, concrete pumps, etc. This approach reduces the overall cost while employing construction workers directly from the community where the project is taking place instead of relying on workers trained abroad.

With this approach the use of mixed construction materials helps to balance the environmental impact of the reconstruction. For this project we used a sturdy, solid wood for the frame structure combined with structural concrete panels for the binding and surfacing of the roof. This choice of materials allowed us to achieve a good balance between materials from renewable resources with material offering strength and long term durability. This combines the best of both worlds: concrete strength without steel rebars and roof flexibility suitable for earthquake prone locations.

In summary, using structural concrete panels as an integral part of the roof structure provides extra resilience through the addition of significant mass/weight which wood alone cannot accomplish, therefore increasing the overall roof resistance to lifting during a hurricane. In addition, the structural concrete panels are relatively simple to install, mold and rot proof, termite resistant and unaffected by water if ever the roof covering material is compromised during a storm.

These new construction methods mixed with vernacular architecture has led to a main building that looks traditional and integrates well with its surroundings while showcasing an underlying concept of true resilience and hurricane resistance.

One of REZDM’s goals has been to make the Soufriere Primary School a user-friendly building within a resilient design. For that purpose, the new classrooms are separated by folding partitions custom-built locally by REZDM. These partitions provide the school’s main building with various space configurations including either closing off the class rooms from each other or, when fully opened, making a large hall for group activities or assemblies.

Solar Energy

From the beginning, a very important aspect of this project was the inclusion of sustainable solar power. The incorporation of solar panels and a solar battery room were therefore an integral part of the design. A brand new electrical room was built specifically for the purpose of allowing all the new electrical circuits of the school to be regrouped in the same location, to be supplied by autonomous solar power energy with battery backup as well as power from the public grid. Since the Soufriere village where the school is located was without grid power for over one year after hurricane Maria, all essential electrical services necessary to operate the school can now be provided by solar energy, allowing the school to be operational after a natural disaster.

Besides integrating resilient power in the new construction, we believe that it was also important for the children and the teachers to attend, and work in a school where electrical power is provided by alternative, clean energy, providing them with the knowledge that every day which they spend at the school represents part of their personal contribution to building a sustainable environment for the future.

Funding and Construction

REZDM initiated the Soufriere Primary School rehabilitation project and through the Daniel Langlois Foundation provided the funding, design and construction supervision for the entire project. REZDM also provided the engineering and installation of the school solar power system. The entire project was built using local workers and contractors.

© 2019 FDL