Stellenbosch University
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SUFM maintenance team's rapid response saves millions in insurance claims
Author: Petro Mostert
Published: 21/03/2023


Boxing Day 2022 came with a massive punch with a flood in Stellenbosch University's Admin A building after a pipe burst on the third floor. Within minutes after security staff saw water streaming out of the building, Facility Management's maintenance teams were on site and doing what they do best. Seven days later, staff could return to their offices – in time to welcome students for registration on campus. Their rapid response and efficient way of cleaning and drying the 2 400 m2 area in such a short period brought down the initial estimated R20 million insurance claim to R2,4 million.

"Our campuses do not shut down when staff and students go on holiday in December. Generators need fuel, and pipes burst, electricity trips and what breaks, must be fixed," says Aloma Fourie, maintenance planning manager, and Robert Todkill, a technical advisor in Facilities Management's property services. "It's like a big brother who must keep his eye on everything that could go wrong while the rest of the University's staff and students are holidaying somewhere," says Todkill.

He says a security officer saw water streaming out from under the doors opening on the Rooiplein at 7 am on 26 December last year. He immediately contacted Facilities Management's maintenance teams. The maintenance teams were on site within twenty to thirty minutes. They closed taps, opened windows and doors, swept up water, moved furniture, boxes of paper, and equipment away, and brought in dryers and dehumidifiers.

Within three days, the building was dry again, and the teams — consisting of SU staff members and service providers— could start repair work. Fourie says it is astonishing how fast the teams managed to dry out the entire building. "This is why we had to replace so few floors or carpets. The insurance company said they had rarely experienced this at any other university in South Africa. Therefore, they said, they wish they could phone the SU team the next time they have floods at another university!"

Todkill said they had to hand over the building on 3 January 2023 for student registration; therefore, the teams even worked on 1 and 2 January when the rest of South Africa was enjoying time off. "One of the guys even checked in every two hours to empty the dehumidifiers. The commitment from the teams was astonishing."

He said that while they were in the building fixing flood damage, such as electrical circuits, alarm detectors, and fire alarms, they even repaired other faults while on site. The result was a building in a much better state than before the flood.

Todkill said SU had invested much time and resources in electronic monitoring systems for utilities, such as water and electricity. "We have people monitoring these systems 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure that faults are detected immediately, and teams are alerted to go out and repair them. These systems are saving the University a lot of money, and we cannot work without them."

They and the planned and reactive maintenance managers say it is unbelievable what they experience when staff and students leave the campus to go on holiday. "People should think of the University as their home. Taps were running, and lights, boilers, and other equipment were still switched on. When you go on holiday, you ensure you've switched off appliances and closed the taps at home. Why not do the same when you leave SU for holidays?" says Fourie.

Fourie had her fair share of flooding when heavy rains caused flooding of residences Huis Marais, Huis Visser, Eendrag, and the library earlier in December last year when we experienced unseasonably heavy rain. Again, the teams were on site immediately to save what they could – even putting down sandbags to prevent further flooding. Even Stellenbosch municipality was called in and cleared some drains to prevent future flooding.

Usually, builders get a breather and go on their annual builders' vacation in December. However, during this time, Fourie takes the opportunity to get a lot of work done with her teams on a quieter campus. This year, she and her teams embarked on a significant cleaning exercise, using high-pressure hoses to clean our buildings. Instead of paying to paint these buildings, she managed to save SU almost R3 million by using this cleaning method. She and her teams plan to continue this project throughout the year.

Fourie and Todkill work side by side, looking after maintenance teams consisting of permanent SU employees and service providers, with which they have built up excellent relationships over the years. Where Fourie looks after planned maintenance issues, Todkill ensures that any reactive requests get the urgent attention they require. "Our phones are on all the time; it is just how it is," they agree.

Together they believe in fostering trustworthy relationships with stakeholders such as the municipality of Stellenbosch. Because of these relationships, our team gets reaction times of 2 minutes.

Director of property services, Nadeem Gafieldien, said he is immensely proud and thankful to the property services teams that worked around the clock to keep SU operational over the holiday period. "The managers, foreman, teams, and service providers responded quickly to the floods and prevented millions of water damage. They save us millions in maintenance costs and insurance claims. In doing this, they sacrificed their valuable family time to ensure the campus can open on time to welcome students and staff for 2023."

For Nicolette van den Eijkel, Chief Director: Facilities Management, her thoughts at 08h36 on Boxing Day were definitely not on removing gallons of water from a building. Throughout the day, she received updates. By the evening, she realised how many of her staff and their service providers' personnel did not spend Boxing Day with their families – and likely would not spend the following days with them, as the deadline was looming.

"Over the next seven days, I got updates, gave advice, and did check-ins, and not once did anyone complain or say how horrible it was to work at this time and be away from family and friends. On 2 January, just after five, I received confirmation: "job done; the building is ready for staff and students." My WhatsApp response seemed inadequate: "I am so very impressed with FM. Thank you to all that managed to pull this miracle off. Thank you, Robert, for taking the lead and making it happen. While we were relaxing and celebrating, you and the team there worked like crazy. We cannot say enough thank you. I am very, very proud of you all."

“The University is indebted to Robert Todkill and Alfonso Baily from Tsebo for the incredible work they and their teams did to prevent massive damage and get the wheels turning within less than a week," said van der Eijkel.

SU gives a massive shout-out to Fourie and Todkill's maintenance teams and service providers for their incredible work around the clock to keep the lights on and the water out.​

See video of the flood here

See video of FM's activities on campus during December 2022 and January 2023 here

See video of how FM did flood control in December 2022 on campus here