Intensive care

By Tristan Wiggill

The private Dr SK Matseke Memorial Hospital in Dobsonville, Soweto, is being primed for occupation.

Once completed, it will include a state-of-the-art, 275-bed hospital with seven new operating theatres, a 20-bed ICU facility, a 14-bed neonatal ICU, seven-bed paediatric ICU, and 11-bed maternity ward. 

It will also benefit from a new radiology department; a new casualty ward; a pharmacy; a pathology laboratory; new renal facilities; a nuclear medicine department; new doctors’ rooms; an updated administration area; and fresh kitchen and reception areas. And then there is a rather slick hot water plumbing system as well.

Plumbing Africa met with GDM Plumbing and Projects’ contract director, Gareth Buirski, to find out how the three-phased project is coming along. 


His company, in partnership with Sebenza Sanitary Engineers — forming the GDM–Sebenza JV — was appointed and established on site in October 2015 to complete the three phases. The first phase is due to be finished in November this year, while phases two and three are planned for completion by July 2018. 

There have been a few delays, which Buirski says stemmed from technical difficulties relating to revamping an existing hospital with very little info about the existing services.

“A large scope of work has been additional and unforeseen. We are slightly behind the programme, but this is due to the extensive alterations and re-routing of existing services, as well as the additions made to the original scope of work. At first, we only had two theatres to do, but we now will be handing over five theatres in the first phase,” he says.

On this job, the designers have tried to stick to locally manufactured items and international manufacturers with a solid track record in South Africa.

The main scope of work was for the water and sewer fit-out of new, three-storey wards, which were all to be equipped with on-suite bathrooms to the hospital’s specifications. “They are three-bed wards, which we have completed. We have been tasked with the addition of kitchens and ablutions, which has added a large volume of work onto our team.”

GDM–Sebenza JV also completed the brand new ICU ward, Neonatal ICU ward, and ICU reception area, as well as the casualty and radiology spaces. The hospital has also upgraded its MRI and X-ray equipment, which required extensive fit-out by the company.

The shiny fire water storage tanks. The domestic pump DB board and control panel.Hot water storage tanks and pipework – installation by WET. Some of the hot water storage tanks.Domestic water pump set by Wilo. Stickers marking where all the water shut-off valves are located for easy maintenance and water shut downs.

Back to basics 

Buirski says the hospital’s plumbing is a simple, yet effective system. “We relocated the cold-water storage tanks on site into the designated plant area room, upgrading the system to deal with the unpredictable local water supply. We then upgraded the existing pump system to make allowance for the additional demand required by the hospital and in turn meet SANS standards.”

“From the plant room, we pump domestic cold water to all new and existing areas in the hospital and feed the hot water generation plant. We have upgraded the old plumbing infrastructure, and the water reticulation is now compliant with the new system demands,” he says.

The hospital is making use of heat pump technology to save electricity. “The discussion and debate was had on solar technology versus heat pump technology, but ultimately, the hospital went with heat pump technology as they need guaranteed hot water as and when they need it. It’s about reliability.”

The plant room houses a full new hot water generation system, consisting of three 6 000ℓ hot water storage vessels and two 60kW heat pumps that supply the new and upgraded areas with a constant 60°C hot water feed. The system has been designed to deliver hot water to each point within 10 seconds of a tap being opened.

Buirski says one of his challenges has been dealing with the existing hospital infrastructure, which had been installed a long time ago: “The existing infrastructure was old and deteriorating. We had to complete extensive surveys and investigations to evaluate how the existing system was operating. The hospital has no existing drawings and very little info to work from. We were tasked with upgrading and relocation of the existing system as well as additions, all the while keeping the hospital 100% operational. It was a challenge to say the least!”

Buirski says they have implemented a stringent internal quality control process, as the professional team has to satisfy rigorous and thorough inspections. This ensures that GDM–Sebenza JV hands over a quality product that both meets the hospital standards, and stands the test of the time under the sometimes harsh environment.

“We have had no problems with the sections that we have handed over. All our installations have passed with flying colours, with very few snags to speak of,” he says.

Construction of one of the new theatres. The galvanised water supply to the domestic water storage tanks, including a municipal bypass installed onto the building water supply, in the event of the pump set being out of operation. Some of the grease traps’ inspection lids. Temporary pipework to the new theatre by different trades. Plumbing includes water (hot, cold, and return), medical gas, and chilled water pipes. The stormwater pipe and HVAC ducting running through the chemical store. Medical pipework at the new theatre done by Cabmed.

Lost in translation

GDM–Sebenza JV has been working with contractors flown in from Germany, specifically for theatre fit-out. “It’s been a difficult exercise to coordinate with the Germans and establish the correct specifications they require. They come in with a pre-manufactured structure for the theatres, and we have to make our installation suite,” Buirski explains.

Communicating with the German contractors has not always been easy. “They have one translator, but even he struggles with translation of the sometimes difficult technical terms. It’s been very challenging, especially on how information is relayed, which sometimes gets interpreted differently to the way it was intended.

“The Germans are also not used to the way of operating in Africa — they are used to 100% efficiency. But we have gained their trust as they can see we are a solid technical subcontractor. They supply hospital theatres around the world; the components are manufactured in a factory in Germany and shipped to site and installed very quickly.”

“It’s quite something to watch them work; they are precise in everything and you can tell they’ve been trained very well. They have certain specifications that they want, and we have to make sure we deliver in line with their strict schedule,” he adds.

Local involvement

A local workforce has been an integral part of the GDM–Sebenza JV plumbing team.

“The objective was to take local, unskilled labour, and train and upskill them in the plumbing trade. Our objective was to provide them with skills to continue in the trade long after construction has been completed. I have been happy with the commitment and quick learning of many of the employees. In fact, many of them have been absorbed onto other sites and now have full-time employment.

“Many of the employees were unemployed before this project, with many of them starting with little to no experience in the construction sector. It has been a great experience empowering them. They have all got a skill now, whether it is welding copper pipes, laying sewer lines, or installing geysers. They have been involved and now their general knowledge of plumbing is good.

“We have a project we are completing in Pretoria, where a learnership programme has been implemented with local students.

“The students come in, they are compensated to study, and allocated to various subcontractors for practical training. I believe the programme has been a resounding success. I have seen the students excel and really learn life-changing skills. When we find people that are keen to work and have a passion for the trade, it is always exciting.

“At first it was a challenge to gain the community’s trust and get the buy-in we required. But as a project, I believe we have done well to contribute and uplift the community. Apart from upskilling local labour, we have been involved in some projects around the community, too. We have prepared some soccer fields and upgraded some school ablutions,” he explains.

Stainless steel floor drains have been installed in the new kitchen. The kitchen mixer installed in the new kitchen. New staff ablution facilities have been installed. View from the top of the new three-storey building, showing the main distribution shaft/passage for all services. Sink and Hydroboil installation at the wash-up area of the three-storey ward.The staff ablution facilities have been kitted out with new showers.

Local suppliers

On this job, the designers have tried to stick to locally manufactured items and international manufacturers that have a solid track record in South Africa.

“We have had very little trouble with the procurement of any of the sanitary items; the architects have specified reliable brands that are very well stocked in South Africa. Geberit, Hans Grohe, Franke, and Cobra taps have been the go-to choice on the project and they have not let us down.

“Because of the constant maintenance required for a hospital this size, the brief was to stick to brands that honour guarantees and have readily available spare parts. We don’t want a situation where the hospital has extended periods of downtime due to out-of-service taps and toilets,” Buirski concludes.

New bottle wash kitchen installation. New sluice room installation; each new area has one or two new sluice rooms. The new WC installation. The medical washbasin installation. The staff’s ablution urinals.

List of professionals

 Geberit South Africa  Supply of cisterns and flush plates
 Maksal South Africa  Supply of copper tubing and fittings

 DPI South Africa

 Supply of PVC drainage and MuPVC below-ground domestic and fire water piping
 Wilo Pumps  Supply of booster pumps
 Kwikot  Supply of geysers and heat pumps
 Industrial valves  Supply of valves, strainers, and check valve
 Sinvac Plastics  Supply of HDPE underground piping
 Grundfos  Supply of circulation pumps

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