Water System Design Sets Stage for New Campus in Malawi, Africa

People | September 26, 2019


Photo of the new water system developed in Malawi

DETROIT, MI — Benesch’s Dave Guastella, PE, working with University of Dayton professors, is lending his water system expertise to Determined to Develop (D2D), a non-profit organization serving the people of Chilumba in Malawi, Africa. His contributions to D2D are part of a larger effort to deliver critical infrastructure—a much-needed school campus expansion serving approximately 2,500 to 3,000 students—to the region.

In all, the project team anticipates spending 10 years working on the project. They will oversee the work of 25-30 University of Dayton School of Engineering student volunteers in the process, alongside members of the university’s ETHOS program, Dr. Donald Chase and Ms. Nancy Chase.

Engineers in Technical Humanitarian Opportunities of Service (ETHOS) is focused on service-learning opportunities for aspiring engineers. Through their partnership with D2D, ETHOS will send a different group of students to Chilumba for 10 weeks each summer. Each year, new tasks will be completed as the design evolves and construction begins. Throughout each school year, Dave will continue his work overseeing the water system.

The team’s objective for 2019: develop a technical report that will pave the way for necessary funding to complete the design and construction of a new water system for the expanded school.

Photo of current housing camp serving 500 houses

The existing campus houses 500 students and provides each student with only 2.5 gallons of water per day.

The proposed expansion will accommodate an additional 2,500 male and female students with greatly improved water facilities, capable of providing an estimated 500,000 liters per day. The school will be transformed from a high school into a technical college for post-secondary education.

While providing a reliable water supply to the expanded site is the main objective, the project’s scope Is flexible.

“We started with a water supply project, but it has also grown into an issue of power supply. As we continue working, it may grow into a wastewater project as well,” said Dave. “We have to know how to dispose of potable water that will be used by students and faculty, as well as other campus uses such as irrigation and facilities operations.”

All these efforts for the water system feed into a large master plan of the school. The master plan includes classrooms, dormitories, kitchens, roads—providing the utilities for water, sewer, storm water and electricity is key to creating a campus that is viable and self-sufficient.

The Engineering Challenge

Situated near the shore of Lake Malawi, Africa’s third largest lake, Chilumba is less than two miles from an unlimited supply of fresh water.

The challenge faced by Dave, his ETHOS partners and the Dayton engineering students is two-fold: not only must they design and construct an efficient system that transports water to the site, they also need to figure out how to keep the system running with minimal maintenance after its construction. The less engineering expertise and specialty materials required to maintain the system, the better.

“Say you need just one nail from the hardware store,” said Don Chase, one of Dave’s partners at ETHOS. “From Chilumba, it’ll be about a two-day drive to get it and come back.”

Although the school is near Lake Malawi, the school’s elevation is 300 feet higher than the lake, and there is no reliable power source. Groundwater is currently accessed using a solar powered submersible pump or by hand-pumping if power is not available.

Photo of current area elevation

The terrain surrounding the proposed campus presents an engineering challenge due to rolling hills and valleys and the presence of rock below the surface.

A Global Design Approach

Balancing these engineering challenges with the needs of the community are critical to the success of the water system and, by extension, the future of the school itself. That’s why student involvement is so invaluable to the project.

Lindsey Weisman and Baylor Johnson (Class of 2020) are the first of 25 to 30 students total who will work on this project over the next ten or so years. This summer they collected data on the existing system and possible water sources (surface and ground) supply routes and conducted initial survey work of the campus.

“There are a lot of benefits to having students with ‘boots on the ground’ in Chilumba,” Don says. “The students stay with host families, which encourages them to engage with locals in a more personal way. It’s a more ethical or global approach to design: understanding the role that water plays in the community and what the culture impacts are—and then making informed design decisions that support the community and help it grow.”

Mapping Better Data

Part of Dave’s contribution in these early stages of the project was securing data collection tools for the students.

“Through Benesch’s Corporate Social Responsibility program, we were able to provide GIS units to the students for the trip, and it’s been a huge help,” Dave says. “These tools give the students the capacity to do more than collect single data points. They’re able to relay information about geology, ground cover—anything that will impact the design.”

The students have also been able to map out any inaccuracies in the existing data, providing a more precise picture of the overall property.

“They’re identifying existing wells and bore holes, all of which is helping us get a better picture of the groundwater resources that are available to the system.”

During their 10-week stay, Lindsey and Baylor reached out regularly with project updates:

With the use of the Mobile Mapper 50 devices, we were able to complete site surveying of the school site and ground truthing of our proposed masterplan with speed and ease. Using the mobile GPS phones, we were able to achieve an amazing level of precision, despite working in the adverse rural terrain of a developing country.  Our team was able to complete our preliminary goals and then some. The project could not have been completed without the use of this technology.

Photos of Dayton School of Engineering students using mobile mapping devices to accurately assess the area for the new campus

University of Dayton School of Engineering students Lindsay Weisman and Baylor Johnson used mobile mapping devices to collect accurate, comprehensive data at the proposed campus site.

Determined to Develop & ETHOS – a Natural Partnership

D2D’s project requires a long-term perspective, making it a natural fit for the ETHOS program model.

The impact of D2D in Malawi is multi-faceted. Since its founding in 2009, the organization has provided programs ranging from tuition sponsorship to female student empowerment opportunities, educational outreach and more.

Through this partnership with ETHOS —D2D’s founder and University of Dayton alum Matt Maroon found an international partner capable of meeting his organization’s needs on the ambitious high school expansion project.

“The work that needs to be done, from all perspectives—data collection, design construction—can’t be completed in one summer or one semester,” said Dave. “So it’s a natural fit for ETHOS to be involved.”

ETHOS was founded more than 20 years ago by several University of Dayton undergraduate engineering students. With a focus on serving developing communities across the globe, ETHOS has sent over 300 students to 20 different countries to promote service learning as a core component of engineering education.

What’s Next

After the master plan is finalized, Dave and his colleagues will begin designing the transmission system that will get water to the site.

“But then we have to figure out how that water will be distributed. There will be other questions we haven’t dug into yet, as well. How do we handle water and sewage that needs to be disposed of?” Dave says. “It’s all a part of the bigger picture.”

As the project continues, new students will be involved each year. But the leadership and project vision provided by Dave, Don and Nancy will remain constant.

“I’ve been working with ETHOS since 2016. Being able to give back and make a positive impact in the world makes up a huge part of my passion for this profession,” Dave says. “A project like this, in partnership with D2D, gives me an opportunity to support a long-term project while also elevating the work of many students. It’s a win-win.”

The initial report for the project was completed this summer and a cost estimate was developed to construct the water transmission system.  After the cost estimate is adjusted for Malawi labor rates, the report will be finalized and used by D2D to secure additional funding for the project.