Update on repairs after the #UCTFire

18 August 2021 | VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng

Dear colleagues and students

I am writing to update you on the progress of our recovery from damage across the University of Cape Town (UCT) caused by the fire of 18 April 2021.

Jagger Library Reading Room and special collections

All salvage activities have been concluded and the Special Collections basement has been cleared of materials. Salvaged materials are at various campus locations, including temporary container storage on University Avenue, Upper Campus. The refrigeration containers will, in due course, be moved to other locations on Upper Campus. A temporary roof has been manufactured and will be installed over the Jagger Library Reading Room by the end of August 2021. There is 24-hour security at the site. Access is restricted to those who have undergone a safety induction and are wearing the required personal protective equipment. Rebuilding the Jagger Library Reading Room will be part of the ongoing Libraries Masterplan. The entire process is expected to take 18 months.

HW Pearson Biological Sciences Building

Temporary roofs have been installed and a waterproofing solution has been applied over the destroyed areas. Limited access has been granted to the Department of Biological Sciences staff and researchers, subject to current lockdown constraints. We expect the teaching laboratories on Levels One to Four to be repaired in the second half of 2021, while the Level Five Plant Conservation Unit will be repaired in 2022.

Upper Campus Residence and Fuller Hall

Initial findings suggested that 80 percent of these two residences were usable. Most students returned to them on 7 May 2021, while approximately 50 students remain in alternative accommodation. The majority of the repair work is now completed, including most of the roof tiling, with all internal repairs completed. Some scaffolding and hoarding are still in place to ensure the safety of students and staff. Additional security and access control repair and reinstatement continues. Following this, all students will return to these residences.

Additional repairs to Upper Campus facilities

UCT Maintenance is managing repairs to the following areas: AC Jordan, Botany Glass House, Molecular & Cell Biology, RW James, Maintenance Place, Maths, Tennis Club and the Sports Centre, as well as to street lighting and electrical cables damaged by the fire.

Gardens, grounds and the mountain slope

Work has been completed to prevent mudslides on the mountain slope behind UCT Upper Campus. We completed an assessment of the forest on Upper Campus, with advice from three independent arborists. We identified the trees that were so badly burnt or otherwise damaged that they would need to be removed. Due to the highly specialised nature of the work, we appointed a conservation forester to manage the removal of the dead trees; and a harvesting company that specialises in clear felling and has extensive experience working in mountainous areas and on slopes. The area is environmentally sensitive and requires that we ensure that we keep erosion to a minimum while conserving water. Depending on weather constraints, we expect this project to be completed sometime between August and mid-November this year.

Once the burnt trees have been cleared and removed, we will begin a tree inventory management strategy, which will include the mapping of burnt and affected areas for replanting. We are now assessing the viability of the vegetation that is still standing, to review the species that have been damaged and see how many can be saved.

Earth Dam

Once geotechnical inspection and drilling have taken place, we will use this information on the soil profiles to assist in the design for rebuilding the collapsed drainage channels in this area.

La Grotta and Cadbol House

Both of these properties in UCT’s Middle Campus have been damaged significantly. Asbestos has been removed from both buildings and the structures have been stabilised for restricted entry. A full repair process is expected to take 12 months. Meanwhile, all cabling and wiring will be made safe, and shrubbery is being removed ahead of replacing the perimeter fencing.

Additional repairs to Middle Campus facilities

Repairs are planned for Cambria House perimeter fencing, the Ivan Toms pergola, University House fencing, and Woolsack Residence roofing, control wiring, entrance gate and damaged fencing. Repairs to fencing may require the removal of shrubbery.

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