Fight to save 104-yr heritage building at Kozhikode St Joseph’s Girls School continues

While the authorities claim that the building is not safe anymore, alumni of the school have put forward four options as part of the conservation proposal.
Fight to save 104-yr heritage building at Kozhikode St Joseph’s Girls School continues
Fight to save 104-yr heritage building at Kozhikode St Joseph’s Girls School continues
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It had all seemed fine. Then. There was a meeting, a friendly gathering when everyone seemed to be on the same page. About a school – the first ever school for girls in Malabar, St Joseph’s Anglo Indian Girls Higher Secondary. And to be specific, a building in a school that’s more than a hundred years old. One of the heritage buildings of Kozhikode, a pride for the people. The meeting happened when there arose a question of demolishing the old building. The old students rushed to save the building. The authorities said there was no other way, the building was just not safe anymore. And there was no space for new buildings. Give them time, the old students said, let them try and come up with alternatives that could still keep the building. The school said yes, that’s fine. The meeting had ended on a cheerful note, both parties not stubborn about their stance, both agreeing children’s safety came first, and if there was a way, the building shall be protected.

But then months later, there are still doubts, questions. Some time ago, a few architects and civil engineers – all alumni of the school – had submitted a draft report titled ‘Conservation Appraisal’ with a detailed description of the school, its history, the problem concerning the building, and a resolution detailing four options. “We have handed the report over to the management and they said they will let us know,” Chinnu S. Kumar, Academic, Urban Designer Consultant, who was part of the study team, says.

The solution, Chinnu says, is basically around a building that is not much in use. As opposed to the colonial building they are trying to protect, this millennium block is in very bad condition. “It used to be a boarding for 40 students. But not in use any longer. It is a structure used by the Convent.” The problem is that the old building has too much of load, so some of it needs to be shifted to other buildings. And even when it is this old, it is still really strong, according to conservation architects, and will stand another hundred years without any tests.

The school was founded in the 19th century by Mother Veronica of the Passion, O.C.D. It was Malabar’s first school commissioned for girls. Though the school was built in 1862, the important historic structures we see in the campus today were built in place of demolished smaller buildings. The old building the alumni is trying to protect, is believed to have been built in 1914. According to the report, “On examination of the structure of the BLDG-A, it can be deciphered that the building was not built as a single unit all at once, but had been extended in a different period of time.”

The conservation proposal includes four options to accommodate the school’s requirements without having to demolish the historically significant building. As of now, the building which is on two floors, hosts 17 classrooms and a few labs, in addition to staff rooms. These classrooms are 6x6 m each, with about 68 students. The rules require them to be 6x8 m each, allowing each student an area of 8 sq.ft. “We proposed breaking the wall in between and converting three classrooms of 6x6 m into two classrooms of 6x9 m,” Chinnu says. This would allow the building to have 14 classrooms. The remaining three as well as the labs, according to the proposal, could go to the Millennium Block or the HSS Block. There could be an additional floor on top of the HSS Block.

The second option involves adding a floor partially. The third and fourth options suggest buying land next to the school and constructing new buildings there.

Anoop G, an alumni of the St Joseph’s Boy’s Higher Secondary School who has been part of the meeting, says, it had all seemed to end on a friendly note. “I was called for the meeting because of a heritage exhibition I had conducted on the history of Kozhikode. The sisters of the school asked me to come, as a mediator. On the other side was a group of alumni, headed by Aysha Mahmood, who began a petition for saving the old building. Both parties seemed to be understanding. The alumni were not stubborn about demolishing the building, they agreed that it should be done only if there was no other option. The school too had not been adamant about demolition. As long as another option to provide all the facilities to the students was available,” Anoop says. He hopes that he would soon be called again, with good news.

But there has not been any communication from the school after the draft was submitted. Sr Nidhisha, principal of the school, when called for comments, said that as of now, they are not thinking about the issue, since they are busy with the plus one admissions. She thinks it might go on till next March since the new academic year has already begun.

So, all those who love the school, not just the alumni, but everyone in Kozhikode who thinks of it as a personal pride, wait.

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