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