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New construction

Lease / Purchase

Phase 3: The construction of the remaining 11 residences.

Scheduled to begin in November with completion expected
by January 31.

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Progress Report

Oct. 11-16, 2004 // CONSTRUCTION LOG # 1

The Objective

To build and landscape 9 – 1,300 sf houses, a warehouse and roadway system as per the plan and to have all completed by May 31. In addition, to renovate up to eight of the older houses (102-108) as vacancies exist such that the houses are more architecturally consistent with the new construction and to be completed by May 31, 2005.

To put this into context: twice as much is to be built this year as last with an additional month’s time. This is an aggressive schedule and many look at me with disbelief but those who know what happened last year, don’t completely dismiss the possibility.

Review & Planning Meeting

The architect, site superintendent (maestro de obra) and I reviewed our experience with previous 5 houses. It was my observation that time was lost and too much money spent on leveling the floors and getting the leveling layer to bond with the rough pour. In addition, I had calculated that the cost of steel had risen about 90% so questioned the cost effectiveness of structural steel walls in the front and back and some interior partitions. Finally, I raised a concern about the cost of the floating slab construction system we used last time as the cost of the fill and compaction was about $8,000. In the current cases, the site is not as low as the site was for 110-113 and raising it was probably not necessary. Lastly, I did not want any of the management / supervisory staff to be subcontractors; if I didn’t like how the work was or was not progressing I couldn’t fire or penalize because of the other role. I also reconfirmed the that the maestro de obra’s salary would be 70,000 colones per week ($150.00) plus a bonus of 10,000 colones a week payable on the condition that ALL work was completed by May 31, 2005. The assistant maestro de obra would also be paid in a similar manor but at a lower rate. The septic system elements were located —tanks, leach lines, and absorption holes.

It was decided to go with all block walls, using conventional footings and pour the floor slabs in smaller sections thus being able to maintain better control over the pour. Plumbing would be on a time a material basis but the electrical would be contracted to the same team as last time provided that the price was right.

It was also decided not to build 123 and 201—these were never designed and conceptually they consisted of a two storey building containing two small, one bedroom units. Of higher priority, is a warehouse for furniture, a garden waste collection area, a laundry room, and a gardener’s change room and bathroom.

In addition, we have added a laundry room near the parking area between 116 – 117. This will consist of two gas clothes dryers converted to propane and two washing machines. Three coin operated dyers are on their way to CR in a container along with some other building materials —copper house wire, special exterior mouldings (moldings), etc.

I consider planning to be where the money and time is made or lost. Last year we did a good job on planning. We spent a lot of time getting the drawings complete and accurate; the architect became quite frustrated with me for insisting they be that but since I expected to hold the maestro de obra and sub contractors to building what was specified, the plans had to be accurate. This year, virtually no design or finishing changes are being made. We also did a reasonably good job on execution of the construction plan but there are some things which we can do better and that will be the challenge this time. Thus the review portion of the meeting.

A crew of eight started Tuesday laying out the buildings (114-116), and worked their way up to 121. In addition, work started on making the rebar reinforcing cages to be used in the footings. The new seismic code has up graded the rebar requirements by one size —from No. 3 to No. 4. As of Saturday, the buildings are about 80% laid out and areas marked for footing excavation. The wages are about the same: skilled labor about 700-750 colones ($1.50-$1.60/hr) to laborers at around a $1.00. The work week is the same as last time —7AM-5PM Monday-Friday and 7AM-12noon on Saturday. Payment is on Fridays in cash. Last year we found the best way to do this was to have the time keeper give us the amounts due to each person along with a total. We withdraw that amount, count it into exact amounts with the maestro de obra place it in a sealed envelop with the workers name on it. The envelop is given to the worker, he counts it and signs for it.

The perimeter ficus benjamina hedge was severely trimmed back to allow the new and smaller trees to be formed into a hedge. Three large ficus trees will be relocated along with one coconut palm—two of those were done on Friday afternoon.

A backhoe and dump trucks worked from Tuesday on removing about 12-14” of topsoil from the new roadway and parking area to be created. In addition leach lines and absorption holes were started. Absorption holes are large pits (approx. 6-8’ in diameter and 12-14’ deep which are backfilled with large river rock. This works as a collection basin for water, which is then absorbed, back into the ground. Depending on the type of soil (percolation factor) as to the absorption rate. Our soil is laced with ribbons of clay. Wherever we have clay, water will not percolate.

The city front road was graded and paved this week. This had been planned for some time and was headed up by our neighbor. Three of us paid for it; all the others benefit.

Quotes were received for a new gate.

The status of the garden was reviewed and while generally in great shape, there are several areas I wanted addressed.

We renewed business relationships with our main building materials suppliers, confirmed our line of credit and are in the process of establishing others as it make s it easier. Here a number of documents have to be completed to get credit and it is a time consuming process. Accountants and lawyers each have roles to play.

We purchased the necessary office supplies for the materials manager/timekeeper from Office Depot. Telephone & fax capability were set up for the maestro de obra — fortunately we had an extra line so we could do that— in CR getting land phone lines can take more than a year. We located a person who had a lot of used construction materials he wanted to dump —cement mixers, grinders, re-bar cutter, welder, wheel barrows, scaffolding, water pump, etc. The rest of the small tools we need —drills, cross cut saws, abrasive cutter for steel, power planer, bench grinder, etc. we bought used from a pawnshop in San Jose. These were probably stolen from some job site—common here— and while I don’t like buying there because they probably are stolen, I don’t think that not buying is going to stop the construction site thefts. Besides, I expect these will probably be stolen as well despite the installation of 5 security systems.

The lawyer and the accountant are getting their acts together —the lawyer to finish the legal documents finalizing the sale in Costa Rica and the accountant to record the assets as they should be and to allocate them to the correct companies —the property management/construction company (Residencias Los Jardines) and the condominium/co-op company (Doneste) which owns the land and houses.

The documents necessary for purchasing are nearly completed and are being assembled into an electronic file. Two people are waiting. We are still working on getting our permit approved and the INS insurance for what is essentially workmen’s compensation. We have been continually advised that this is very wise to have; we’ve heeded the advice. There seems to be some different information this time. You have to estimate the cost of the construction contemplated. The question is: does one include only the labor component or the materials as well. Last year I was told the latter; this year I’m told the former. I’ll accept labor only and feel that I probably got stung last year since the INS office is on a commission basis it was to his benefit to state the higher cost. The cost is about 2.5% of estimated labor cost. Depending on the amount as to how long the insurance is good for. This should all be sorted out Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

Comment

While I had done a lot of preparation for this stage prior to my arrival, I continue to find it amazing how fast things can get done here. Many people are fond of believing that things can’t be done rapidly and some can’t but my experience is that some can be done incredibly fast – there are people willing and capable of working and there are not as many restrictive rules and red tape. I didn’t pay any “facilitation” fees last year nor was I ever set up for one and I don’t anticipate it this year.

Personally

The first couple days were devoted to getting the household organized and sorted, refrigerator and cupboards stocked, phones and office set up, etc. Sunday I got my computer up and running on the new high speed LAN system. It’s a real treat.

The trip was long—thru Buffalo, no waiting at the Canadian / American border so we waited at the airport and then again at Newark. We arrived early and took a taxi to the property from which we called our friends who were going to meet us. Hugo fought his carry castle all the way and never did settle down despite a double dose of Valium. He’s not as freaked out here as last year but not as comfortable as he is at the marina either.

Lita couldn’t wait to re-unite with her parrot. The parrot wasn’t as excited as she was and was his normal mean, nasty self for about two days. Then, in the evening of the 2nd. day, he was on Lita’s hand and ever since, it’s been a continuous love affair of mutual cooing, petting, snuggling, chatter, etc She is again taking it on walks around the property and to the pool. The other day when picking oranges, it climbed into the tree and she couldn’t see it (green against green isn’t easy and w/ her eyesight--impossible. One of the gardeners found the bird for her. When it is in the cage, Hugo comes out; when he’s out, Hugo dives under the bedspread. The other day the bird was standing on the lump which was Hugo under the cover.

The Hyundai needed a new fuel filter—it kept dieing on hills and the pickup truck is in for a valve overhaul. This should have been done before I arrived but guess I just didn’t appreciate the extent to which it needed work.

It’s been so nice reuniting with the fresh fruit and fish here and sitting in the garden day or night, absolutely still, no breeze and perfect temperature. The pool water is warm and now that we have lights in the garden at night, it’s really quite nice. Catching up on friendships has been nice.

Weather wise, there has been the normal light rain almost, but not every day, usually in the late afternoon. It hasn’t stopped us from working as we simply shifted to the covered work area and continue to make the rebar reinforcing cages.

Brian

 

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