The University of Zululand – one of the country’s oldest and most remote tertiary institutions – is celebrating the opening of a R40-million state-of-the-art residential upgrade at its main KwaDlangezwa Campus.
According to director of facilities management, Richard Dlongolo, the University of Zululand struggles with a problem that plagues most local tertiary institutions – good residential accommodation is in short supply.
Because the university’s central campus is located far from major centres (19km south of Empangeni and 142km from Durban), the challenges are even more concerning. The university has grown exponentially since it started out in 1960 with just 41 students. Today, just 5 000 out of approximately 17 000 students can be accommodated on campus.
As a result, many young people travel long distances or live in the nearby Vulindlela Village where rudimentary housing and shacks lack basic services and do not provide a suitable environment for study.
The new 288 unit facility comprises four and six sleeper combinations. These come with hot water, bathroom facilities, furniture and kitchens that are equipped with refrigerators, stoves and individual lockers for students to store their groceries. Creature comforts include a lounge area and television.
The residential upgrade is part of a combined R70 million investment in infrastructure that will go a long way towards creating a good teaching and learning environment for both students and staff, according to the University’s vice chancellor, Professor Xoliswa Mtose.
This includes the complete rebuild of the campus electricity substation at a cost of around R26 million to address the protracted electricity outages that have plagued the university.
Because of its remote location, the university was not included on the municipal grid when the campus was established way back in the 1960s. It therefore required its own high voltage electricity substation – one that, at 35 years old, was technically obsolete and prone to frequent break downs and black outs.
“Investment in post-secondary infrastructure is an investment in South Africa’s next generation of students and researchers. Improving the spaces where students’ live and where innovation takes place will fuel prosperity for years to come,” Prof Matose said.
According to Dlongolo, this latest residential upgrade was actually an extension of existing residential facilities that were completed in 2008.
In addition to 338 000 plaster bricks, facebrick – in this instance, 103 200 Roan Satin, 2 000 Firelight Satin FBX, 13 000 Bergendal Blend FBS, 5 300 Country Classic and 63 500 Nebraska – allowed for continuity in design and blended with the surrounding Zululand countryside.
Construction of the new residential units began in November 2015 and took a year. The new residential units were completed in May this year with “very excited” students moving in in July when the new term began.
He says that there are plans to continue to build further residential accommodation on campus to continue to whittle away at the critical backlog of student accommodation.
Although the longevity and low maintenance of buildings constructed using clay brick played an important role in the selection of clay brick for this project, Allin Dangers, Corobrik sales director KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape said that the reduction of noise, natural thermal regulation, energy conservation and other safety and health advantages associated with clay brick made this the perfect choice for student accommodation.
Clay brick also has highly sought after acoustic properties. The density of clay brick provides maximum insulation against noise and minimises the transmission of airborne sound whilst also reducing the impact of external noise. This is important when large numbers of students are living in close proximity – especially when they are studying after lectures.
As Dangers pointed out, one of the chief engineering challenges in Zululand is its harsh climate, particularly its hot and humid summers. “The thermal mass of clay brick is widely recognised for moderating indoor temperatures. Clay brick has the ability to absorb heat during the day and release it at night, thus reducing the need for artificial heating in winter and cooling in summer.
This goes hand in hand with energy efficiency – another priority at the University of Zululand which is currently embarking on a project to convert all outdated external and internal lighting on campus to energy efficient LED lighting.
Dangers added that the use of clay brick also supported a healthier indoor environment for students living closely together as it reduces dust, mould spores and high levels of carbon dioxide.
“Research has shown that clay brick is one of the few man-made building materials whose mineral properties meet all necessary requirements for healthy living. The inorganic or inert qualities of fired clay release insignificant or minuscule volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). Most importantly, in Zululand, clay brick has a natural propensity to absorb and release humidity from the atmosphere to help keep humidity at a required 40-60 percent level for healthy living,” he points out.