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26th March 2000
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A dream in glass

A dream in glass

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Maintaining the World Trade Center is a Herculean task. But they enjoy it.

The gondola gang

By Wathsala Mendis
It's the ultimate business address in town. Standing tall in the heart of Colombo, it projects a strong corporate image. What makes the World Trade Center the perfect recipe for healthy business? The location? The state-of-the-art building technology? The high standards of comfort and convenience?

If fine features are anything to go by, the panoramic view it offers would be enough in itself, one would say. Every one of the office floors in the WTC commands an uninterrupted, breathtaking view of the port, the sleepy blue ocean, and the Beira Lake.

Standing an impressive 149 feet, the twin towers, with 39 floors each, boast over 750,000 square feet of prime office and commercial space. Naturally as one would expect its maintenance is also a gigantic affair.

Keeping it attractive as a workplace for staff while portraying prestige to visiting clients would mean that maintenance services have to be first-class. 

The secret behind its sparkling beauty is actually the story of the 'gondola team'. The story of 10 enterprising young men and the gondola a framework of bars and rods suspended from a cable.

After the usual preliminaries my first question to Elmo Fernando, Manager, Overseas Realty Ltd., the contractors, was whether I could take a ride in the cradle. "Wouldn't it be fun?" I thought. 

Imagine my disappointment when he brushed it off with a "I don't think it's possible". And that's about all he would say on that.

No sooner we reached the top a couple of hours later and looked 38 floors down than I realized the reason for his rather curt dismissal. It was scary, to say the least. The situation out there was a total contrast to the air-conditioned comfort of a plush office room inside.

It being high noon, the sun was at its scorching best. Five minutes in that heat and you are oozing sweat. 

The hot humid air doesn't help either. Working at such a dizzy height with eyes smarting and clothes sticking to the body may not exactly be one's idea of earning one's bread and butter. 

But this gondola team has no complaints whatsoever. In fact, they actually seem to enjoy their work, corroborating my first impression of riding in a cradle.

Each tower has two built-in gondolas, operated by a microprocessor control unit. 

A gondola is designed for two people. They themselves can operate it in addition to the mother unit. The cradle can move both vertically and horizontally. What usually happens is they work on one straight line from the bottom to the top or vice versa and then move to the next.

Normally, a detergent and a wiper would suffice, whereas a buffing wheel would be necessary should the stains be more stubborn. It takes roughly one-and-a-half months to clean the whole building. Put another way, each glass panel would be cleaned once every 40 days. Apart from this they also keep their eyes open for any repairs that need to be done. No mean feat, really.

A standard procedure has to be adhered to before their work begins at 7 o'clock in the morning. 

The engineers do the usual round of checking on the equipment to make sure everything is okay. The gondolas are, apparently, not put to work during rough weather.

The team had their hands full after the Central Bank bomb blast four years ago. Clearing the debris and restoring the towers to their present glory took long months of hard work. Working at a stretch, braving the burning sun requires excellent physical health and great stamina. No worker is allowed in unless he goes through a medical checkup.

All 10 people employed at the towers are in their 20s and have been there since the construction stage. They know the place inside out. No wonder they laughed at my naive "Aren't you scared?" 

Here are people who know what they are doing and are quite cheerful about it.

After a hearty meal and well-deserved rest, the guys are all set to start afresh. They're indeed a wonderful team who help keep Colombo's prime business location spick and span.

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