Plywood houses for Isla Bonita ???
Prospective home owners are contrasting the cost against the structural strength of the new housing project nearing completion on the leeward lagoon shore at the south end of San Pedro Town.
The Development Finance Corporation is financing the construction of 300 stucco-on-plywood houses. This DFC general manager Roberto Bautista confirmed to Reporter, but he admitted that he does not know how much the two and three bedroom houses will cost the new homeowner.
The real question is how much will San Pedranos be willing to pay for a house built of plywood, with an inch of concrete plastered over it? Many of these prospective home-owners, were left homeless when a hurricane destroyed their wooden dwelling. They seriously question the wisdom of investing ANY money in these plywood houses when they compare them with solid cement-block homes which other San Pedranos have built for themselves on lots immediately adjacent to the new project.
According to Bautista, the houses were being built in accordance with South Florida's building code and are hurricane proof, or at least, that's what the EMB Group of South Florida told the DFC.
The EMB Group is a foreign-owned company which was awarded the contract to supply the materials and build the houses.
The housing project in the San Pablito area of the island got started earlier of this year, and the first phase is expected to be completed in the next three months.
The houses are being built from rain-damaged imported plywood which was left abandoned near the site of the La Democracia Satellite Town near mile thirty one on the Western Highway.
Reports coming out of San Pedro are that over two hundred San Pedro residents have already approached DFC asking about the cost of the houses, but were told that the cost is still uncertain.
Over one hundred of the plywood houses have already been built, and Bautista said that the infrastructure will come after. This will include streets, water and electricity.
He said that the Belize Electricity Limited and the Belize Water Services Ltd. have agreed to install utility services to the new area.
An on-site check by Reporter shows that the houses are being built on wooden posts sunk into drying mud landfill. The posts are driven into the ground and lopped off at an 18-inch height. Including the width of the floor joists, the floor is a scant two feet above the ground. These plywood affairs are covered by a corrugated zinc roof.
A veteran structural engineer told Reporter that it's not impossible for these type of houses to withstand hurricanes, but its hurricane resistance depends largely on the way the house is set on the foundation and how the plywood is attached to the frame.
The engineer said that because the houses are on an island and so near to the coast, a storm surge, such as during a hurricane, could easily wash them away if they are not properly done.
A DFC source told Reporter that the houses will fetch a high price, but the Corporation is officially keeping a tight lip for now.
A check with the Department of Environment revealed that no environmental impact assessment was done in the area.
The San Pedro stucco-plywood project was an initiative launched by area representative Patty Arceo after hurricane Keith demolished dozens of homes last year.
DFC has already received harsh criticism for the high price it is asking for the houses at Los Lagos at mile twelve in Ladyville. Many of the Los Lagos houses remain without owners, precisely because of the high cost.
In comparison, Belizeans in need of housing are snapping up the more affordable homes in Maxboro near mile 16 in Sandhill. These houses are similar in construction to those built at Los lagos but are selling for half the price!
A casual inspection shows that the houses at Maxboro are being built by three different methods. Some are built of conventional 6-inch blocks. The walls have no columns, but the blocks on the corners are plaited to give added strength. When the hollow space in the center of the blocks is filled with concrete, this gives pseudo column of sorts.
Other houses at Maxboro are being built in the "Cubel" model. The Cubel system uses 4-inch thick concrete slabs which are held in place by steel reinforced columns spaced very three to four feet. The slab is perforated by lateral holes which reduce the weight and the amount of concrete needed to make each slab. The slabs and columns are grooved to fit together for quick construction. A layer of plaster over the walls inside and out seals all the cracks and crevices.
San Pedranos visiting the mainland look at the sturdy Maxboro houses, and they ask why aren't the houses in San Pablito being built in this manner?
A third method used at Maxboro is the Covington design. The structure is built of galvanized, tempered steel ribs spaced 20 inches - two feet apart. The ribs are 21/2 inches wide, and the space in between the ribs is filled with a styrofoam slab. This is held in place with a steel wire mesh onto which concrete is plastered to a thickness of three-quarters of an inch on either side, to produce a wall four inches thick.
Even the roof is built by this method, giving a house which is exceptionally cool, because the styrofoam insulates to keep out the sun's heat. A conventional galvanized roof reflects some of the sun's rays, but the sheet metal roofing heats up. Only the layer of air trapped in the loft between the ceiling and the roof serves as an insulation barrier to keep out some of the heat.
The Belize government has reported that well over 2,500 houses have been built since the change of government in August of 1998. Several new housing developments have sprung up Los Lagos, Maxboro, mile eight and the Burrel Boom Fresh Pond site.