With the major landmark of the bond beam completed – and the aches and bruises to prove it – we have been able to move into roof construction. First, though, we had to cap the two entry wing walls and the southwest interior wash wall with their own mini concrete tie beams. Like most tasks here, it seemed simple, but in fact it involved hours of chiseling and finicky formwork construction using scrap wood that had the unfortunate tendency of complete disintegration. Luckily, our patience was rewarded, and the work looks great.
At the same time, the concrete mix used for the bond beam was a bit dry and required an exterior application of a more cementitious rendering, so a group set to work on removing formwork and beautifying the beam with a smoother coat of concrete. The first course of mud brick has been laid above the new datum of the bond beam. This is not a task for the faint of heart, since temperatures have been steadily rising throughout the week, and the midday sun intensely bakes whoever dares to leave the relative comfort of the work tents.
The primary structure of the roof assembly consists of 9” diameter poplar poles that act as beams spanning from one wall to the other. We received our order of de-barked poplars, and because they are a visible interior feature, they require some sprucing up and finishing. So, a dedicated team began sawing and chiseling away at major knots, sanding over the rough areas, and scrubbing the well-ingrained dirt away with an exfoliating mix of water, gravel and sand. We couldn’t have done it without the help of some of our new friends – a group of sixth grade girls who are much more thorough in their work than we are! Once squeaky-clean, the poplars have undergone a protective treatment of linseed oil, a local, natural alternative to conventional varnishes.
Next came the secondary roof structure: thousands (yes, thousands) of slim, polished willow sticks that are laid precisely side-by-side between poplar beams to form the ceiling sheath. When the truck arrived with an entire load of willow sticks, we realized it would be a big task to prepare them for the building. And when the truck brought a second load, essentially doubling the number of sticks, we gasped and then kicked into high gear. We put most of the team on “willow duty”: linseed oil finishing followed by sawing all of the sticks down to the proper size. By some miracle, all of the willow is now ready and looking gorgeous.
In the meantime, there has been heavy production happening in the woodworking area: windows, doors, cabinetry and skylights have all put demand on the limited tools and power available. The double doors and mullioned corner windows are being constructed along with the beginnings of the custom cabinetry and plywood skylight boxes. Another team has been working steadily this week on a mosaic – depicting the school’s “Live to Love” symbol – to be placed in the center of the floor.
Finally, another big landmark was reached when the carved timber beam was fixed into place atop our now beautiful concrete bond beam. This was an exciting moment, and gave our roofless building a feeling of inhabitance and coziness: good incentive to keep working hard to get that roof completed in the last week!