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French Guiana gets great care

5 min


Bouygues Construction is carrying out its first construction project in this little piece of South America that is France, in the town of Saint Laurent du Maroni. ‘Exacting requirements’ and ‘ flexibility’ describe the task in a nutshell.
By Céline de Buttet


In the damp heat of the afternoon, the streets of ‘Little Paris’–the name by which Saint Laurent du Maroni was once fondly referred to–seem to sleep. Adjacent to what used to be a famous transportation prison camp, the hospital–now but a shabby remnant of colonial architecture–accommodates its last patients. Due to damage to the listed buildings, cramped conditions, and overcrowding, the only healthcare facility in western French Guiana is about to hand its duties over to the new Franck Joly hospital, just a few kilometres away. Shiny new buildings with five operating theatres, an intensive-care unit, and very importantly in a region where the fertility rate is amongst the highest in the world (5.2 children per woman)–a maternity clinic. Bouygues Bâtiment Centre Sud-Ouest, Bouygues Energies & Services, and Colas subsidiary Ribal TP are currently completing the work.

Christophe François
In charge of Bouygues
Bâtiment Outre-mer
“The project might be 8,000 kilometres from our bases, but we apply the same standards as in mainland France: safety, quality, lead times, and ethics.”


“Keep a cool head, stay flexible, and have a back-up plan”: three no-non- sense tips the site team gives for staying on track in French Guiana ... and tackling the complicated logistics conundrum that requires careful organisation and forward planning: French and European regulations prohibit the sourcing of materials from neighbouring countries, but French Guiana produces nothing that is needed! So everything has to come from mainland France, both for construction and for the future operation of the hospital. The successive steps of ordering, procuring, and transporting leave no margin for error if everything is to arrive within the programmed lead times and induce no delays for the progress of the works.

It takes at least a month for cargos to reach Saint Laurent du Maroni from Le Havre... assuming everything goes to plan. To avoid setbacks, the site teams fall back on the engineering department of Bouygues Bâtiment Centre Sud-Ouest. From mainland France it provides technical and logistics backup, including things like optimisation of shipping container stuffing.

There is one exception, however: concrete. “We set up a concrete batching plant and a casting plant on-site”, explains Lionel Deveaux, Project director for Bouygues Bâtiment Centre Sud-Ouest. “ That made us as autonomous as possible, not having to rely on local sources of supply.” All the precast wall panels and floor plates of the new hospital were manufactured on-site, under the cover of a shed to avoid weather complications as much as possible.


Bouygues Bâtiment Centre Sud-Ouest, together with its subsidiary Bouygues Bâtiment Outre-Mer, and Bouygues Energies & Services, working together as a joint venture after winning their respective work packages independently, are in charge of the entire project.


The consortium in charge of the building envelope, fitout, and external works is made up of Bouygues Bâtiment Centre Sud-Ouest (lead firm), its subsidiary Bouygues Bâtiment Outre- Mer, and Ribal TP, a Guianan subsidiary of Colas.


Bouygues Energies & Services is responsible for two building-services packages: power-voltage and communication-voltage systems.


Bouygues Energies & Services is also responsible for heating, ventilation, air conditioning, piped medical gas, vacuum and general plumbling.


The sky darkens, the rain gets harder and heavier; the short ‘March summer’ that precedes the main rainy season lasted but a few weeks. In French Guiana, working around wet weather is a fact of life. Most of the time work can continue under tarpaulins, and no one so much as bats an eyelid. In the summer of 2015, when structural work began, the rains were particularly heavy: the total rainfall that year came to 2,688 millimetres, compared to 1,288 millimetres in Brest, on France’s Atlantic seaboard.

Not content with simply falling from the sky, water also surges from the ground. Four springs on the site had to be tamed and re-routed, which meant construction started with major foundation work and driving of over 1,200 piles. A stepped reservoir even had to be built alongside one of the buildings to control the runoff resulting from particularly heavy rain. It also channels the flow of one of the springs on the site. The humid equatorial climate also affects other things: “It was vital that we choose the right materials. They have to be treated and made water-proof so they don’t corrode.”, says Philippe Jaffré, in charge of work package No.3 for Bouygues Energies & Services.

Philippe Jaffré
in charge of the package 03 for Bouygues Energies & Services
It was vital that we choose the right materials. They have to be treated and made waterproof so they don’t corrode.
Did you know?
To find local recruits, the site teams turned to the SMA regiment. Service Militaire Adapté is a military institution in France’s overseas territories.

It gives unqualified male and female volunteers aged between 18 and 25 professional training in a military environment. After a month of preparation, the trainees take specialised courses (twenty-one specialisations are available in French Guiana : masonry, electricity, plumbing, joinery, safety, catering, child care and education, gardening, etc.). In 2017, 563 youngsters volunteered for service with the Guianan SMA regiment, and 77% of them subsequently found a job or further training.
28 000 m2
Floor area
including 5 operating theatres and a maternity unit
Bed and outpatient slots
Maternity unit with doubled capacity
€92 M
Contract amount


A traditional canoe glides over the muddy waters of the Maroni– French Guiana’s longest river and a natural border with Suriname–as it flows past the town. Amerindians, Bushinengue, Chinese, West Indians, Brazilians, Hmongs, Surinamese, Haitians, French Guianans, and mainland French people... Saint Laurent is a happy melting pot. And it is no surprise that the same diversity is found on the construction site. But in this country, more than 90% of which lies beneath the thick green carpet of the Amazonian jungle, it is no easy thing to find the requisite number of people with the skillsets needed for the project: poor mobility is a hindrance and the rate of unemployment is particularly high.

Experts from mainland France work closely with local labour; for most of them, it is the first time they have worked in one of France’s overseas territories. One example is Minorange guild member Basile Labonne, team leader with Bouygues Bâtiment Centre Sud-Ouest. He has been based in the worksite living quarters for three years, along with around thirty other site-workers. He has developed a taste for this more adventurous way of living and is already dreaming of his next expatriate job. The worksite supervision team has been reinforced to provide full support for the poorly skilled workforce, with excellent results, e.g. several locally trained crane operators are now working on the Ariane 6 project in Kourou.

Arnaud Cherbonnel
“We give young Guianan recruits professional training. We want them to find jobs.”
Siteworkers (including subcontractors)
on site

What applies to the people of Bouygues Construction also applies to the hospital staff . “We need 70 midwives and nurses, and around thirty more doctors”, laments Jean-Mathieu Defour, director of the new hospital. “ These skills are hard to come by in French Guiana. Our personnel, often young people, come from the French West Indies or mainland France, stay a year or so, then move on. The people we had at the start of the project are no longer here.” On top of the recruitment issue, special attention is paid to safety, “which obliges us to constantly keep an eye on our employees and their families”, says Lionel Deveaux. This creates a bond for the teams: everyone is crossing their fingers for the signature of a new contract in the French West Indies so they can enjoy more overseas adventures together.

The population of Saint Laurent du Maroni is a happy melting pot. The same diversity is found on the construction site.
Some of the listed buildings of the old hospital are now totally abandoned.
Samuel Benoit, chief site engineer (left) and William Goncalves, site foreman (right), from Bouygues Bâtiment Centre Sud-Ouest.