BUILT in 1928, the St Joseph School building in Batu Gajah, along with the main church building, has managed to survive the passing of time mostly intact.
In its heyday, it served as a centre for learning. It was also once used to shelter orphans and the homeless during the Japanese Occupation.
After the Second World War, a small number of boys and girls began attending classes there. There were only three classes and three teachers then.
As time passed, the boys were sent to other schools, including to the La Salle schools and SMK Sultan Yussuf, while the girls remained.
After being granted a piece of land along Jalan Pusing in 1952, a proper school, now known as the St Bernadette’s Convent School, was built and all the girls were moved there.
The original school building then became a training centre for Chinese catechists in 1960. In the 1970s, the building was turned into a kindergarten that operated until 2009.
St Joseph Church parish priest Father Edmund Woon said the kindergarten was an important pre-school for the people of Batu Gajah and its surrounding areas.
“It was considered one of the few good kindergartens then in Batu Gajah.
“But as many other kindergartens began to be set up in other housing areas, it became too far for the children to come here and thus, it was closed down.”
“With all its historical value, we plan to get the church recognised as a heritage site in the future. It’s going to be a long process and we will work hard to achieve it,” he added.
Father Woon said the church now plans to renovate the dilapidated building to give it a new lease of life.
“We will keep the basic structure and create a prayer room, a gallery to showcase the church’s history and a room to display religious article.
“We also plan to set up a hostel so that people from other states who are visiting the sick at the Batu Gajah hospital have a place to stay,” he said.
“We also want to have dormitories for youth camps and church activities,” he added.
He said the foundation of the building is still structurally sound.
“The beams and pillars are made of teak and are still in good condition.
“Even the roof tiles are still good. These were all imported from England back then,” he said
“It’s only the wooden walls that have been damaged by termite infestations,” he added.
Father Woon said a fund-raising dinner was held earlier last month and managed to raise some RM250,000 for the renovation project.
“The target was to collect RM200,000.
“The extra money will be channelled into providing more facilities in the building.
“The church committee will be having a meeting about the finer details for the renovation project,” he said.
“We have yet to set a date to commence the renovation work,” he added.
A former student of the school, K. Gobinathan said he studied there from 1982 to 1983.
The 40-year-old technician said the school was considered one of the best kindergartens in Batu Gajah then.
“Back then, it was St Joseph or the Lutheran Kindergarten, so a lot of parents sent their children here.
“I remember we did not have any uniforms and the children consisted of various races,” he said, adding that the school grounds was always peaceful and conducive for studies.
“The school was very particular about the English language. There were five classes with hundreds of pupils back when I was a student,” he added.
Gobinathan said he regretted that he did not take a graduation picture back then.
“I thought it would be expensive to take the pictures so I decided not to do so.
“It was after the photography session that I realised that it was not expensive at all,” Gobinathan said, adding that he still keeps in touch with some of his former classmates.
He said he was now assisting the church to help preserve its historical value.
“I have a lot of fond memories of this place. I’m just trying to help out as best as I can,” he said.
“Hopefully one day, this will be a place of interest again,” he added.