It had appeared to reach a standstill, the question of demolishing a more-than-100-year-old building in one of the oldest schools in Kerala - the St Joseph’s Anglo Indian Girls Higher Secondary School in Kozhikode. The school wanted it gone, but former students and lovers of heritage did not. After many months of reaching no agreement, a notice was published on the gazette, by the state's Cultural Affairs Department, declaring that the school should be a protected monument. It was published on July 27 and the school has time till September 27 to respond or raise any objection.
The Gazette notice G.O. (Rt.) No. 476/2018/CAD states: ‘Whereas, the Government of Kerala are of the opinion that the “St. Joseph’s Anglo Indian Girls Higher Secondary School” situated at Nagaram Village, Kozhikode Taluk, Kozhikode District and more particularly described in the schedule below should be declared to be a protected monument under the provisions of the Kerala Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1968 (26 of 1959).’
“Before all this happened, there was a meeting between the school and some of us including the PTI, stakeholders of the school, old teachers, architects and alumni,” says Aysha Mahmood, a former student who hopes to see the old building retained. She had started an online petition for saving the school which led to the meeting.
The principal, Sr Nidhisha and Mother Superior Rosy Joseph were also part of the meeting. The school had asked the others to find alternatives, for the old building had seemed unsafe and there were several classrooms in it. The school also wanted to allow smart classes and for this, they wished to build a new building in place of the old.
The meeting had ended amicably, and both sides agreed that the safety of the children came first, and if there was a way to protect the building, that shall be done.
This was in the beginning of the year.
A group of conservation architects and urban design consultants then did detailed studies and came out with an appraisal report. They provided scientific alternatives that would keep the heritage building as well as allow smart classrooms. The studies had also found the building perfectly safe.
"It is not about nostalgia or emotions anymore. We are supporting it with facts, with experts called and tests done. It has been proved the school could stand another hundred years," Aysha says.
Lakshmi Manohar, one of the urban designers who was part of the team that did the study, says, “This appraisal was made based on the request of the school authorities. It briefs on the history and the importance of the school and the stages in which the school was constructed. We got information from the archives at the Collectorate as to how the school was planned. We proved how important the school was. We also checked the current situation of the building, where all deterioration has happened, is it detrimental - we checked all those facts."
Lakshmi agrees that the structure was slightly weak but that this can be rectified. “These issues are from the plaster that has gone out. The internal structure is not weak. The laterite wall of the building is so strong and thick. But the renovation was not done scientifically. On the upstairs, it has been all timber panels and flooring. When it deteriorates, instead of replacing it with another fresh piece, they have plastered it. Timber and plaster do not go together. Such unscientific interventions are the actual cause of the plaster falling off,” she says.
The building can be easily conserved just like the Doon School in Dehradun, Lakshmi opines.
“It was given an award by the UNESCO for its attempts at conservation. Also the Chhatrapati Sivaji Terminus in Mumbai is another living heritage. There is a busy railway station running in it. Heritage does not mean fossilising a building in time. It can continue the function for which it was intended. We can incorporate modern amenities inside an old building," she notes.
Some time had passed after they prepared the appraisal report and sent it to the school but there was no response. That's when they wrote to the Cultural Affairs Department. Details of the report can be found here.
When called, Sr Nidhisha said that the report was just not acceptable to them.
“They talk about constructing floors further up the building and having lifts for the kids to go up. They talk about getting a plot. All these are not acceptable. They are just some old students who are not even in town, but for their selfish interests, will not allow the demolition of the building. The school was set up for the growth of children, that has always been our intention,” she says.
The principal said that the authorities had not been aware of the gazette notice for many days. They haven’t decided upon what action should be taken yet.