Piece of history treated as scrap

SMK Raja Perempuan Kelsom in Kuala Kangsar, Perak, history dates back to 1906.

A SOCIAL media post of a man offering to sell the original beam of a 113-year-old school building in Kuala Kangsar, Perak, has upset many.

The advertisement shared in a private Facebook group called Kuala Kangsar Sempoi, was from an individual asking if anyone was interested in buying scrap metal, which he had described as “old metal of good quality from the colonial era.”

A photograph was also uploaded showing the metal beam placed on the roadside in front of SMK Raja Perempuan Kelsom.

An alumni whose children are also studying in the school, took a screenshot of the Facebook post and shared it on an alumni WhatsApp group. The post was removed earlier this week.

SMK Raja Perempuan Kelsom was built in 1906.

Two years ago, the school together with the alumni, had jointly submitted an application to nominate the building as National Heritage, as proposed at an alumni meeting on Nov 16, 2016.

An evaluation was carried out by the National Heritage Department (JWN) built heritage and landscape committee to determine if it fulfilled the criteria stated in Section 67(2) of the National Heritage Act 2005.

The old beam left by the roadside on the school grounds was put up for sale on social media.The old beam left by the roadside on the school grounds was put up for sale on social media.

Unfortunately, the nomination was rejected on Nov 5, 2018, due to previous construction work on the school’s roof.

The repairs were necessary after a bargeboard fell from the front section of the roof during a thunderstorm in July 2017, which resulted in the school being closed and the students moved to an adjacent building for safety reasons.

Perak Public Works Department (JKR) had in May 2018 approved RM300,000 as initial budget for repairs of the ceiling and floorboards because the school building was in a poor state.

But during construction, the original century-old roof structure went missing.

StarMetro had highlighted last year that the building’s original structure, timber trusses and beams, worth an estimated RM1mil, were removed by contractors.

International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) Malaysia member Rosli Mohd Ali said the beam that was being sold online had supported the timber trusses.

“It is an integral part of the roof supporting the structure between the central atrium and the upper pavilion section of the building, also known as King’s Pavilion Kuala Kangsar.

“The purpose (of the beam) is two-pronged. It supported part of the atrium roof truss over the wide opening and a roof truss of its own above it, tying these two elements together,” he said.

“These are among the many peculiar things in the work of the architect who designed this building,” said Rosli, referring to renowned British architect AB Hubback.

A picture showing the metal beam before it was removed.A picture showing the metal beam before it was removed.

StarMetro contacted SMK Raja Perempuan Kelsom for comments and was informed that the issue was a minor one which had been blown out of proportion.

“This is a simple misunderstanding, a small matter made big by some people,” said the spokesman.

“It was just an idea (to sell the metal). People have been calling the school and JWN to complain.

“It (metal beam) had been sitting there (on the roadside) for two years, it is heavy and rusty.

“So if they (alumni) have the means, then they are welcome to do something about it,” added the spokesman.

Mabel Muttiah, president of the Alumni Association for Methodist Girls School, Government English Girls School and SMK Raja Perempuan Kelsom, said she empathised with the school’s position.

Mable added that the authorities should take responsibility for the matter.

“JKR and JWN should have been more sensitive and proactive on the issue, especially since they are aware of the historical significance of the building.

“They could have handled it better instead of always (having) this “passing the buck mentality.”

Mabel said JKR should have incorporated adaptive reuse of original structures in conservation efforts when carrying out the maintenance and repair works last year.

The timber roof was removed so repair works could be carried out.The timber roof was removed so repair works could be carried out.

“Everything on the building, the doors, windows, ceiling, beams and timber should have been incorporated during the repair work. Why did they not put back the metal beam? This is disappointing,” she added.

“I believe the roof issue had contributed to the school failing to be listed as National Heritage,” said a parent, John Kumar, whose child is studying in the school.

“When the timber went missing, it was like a part of the school’s history was lost.

“It is sad that history and heritage always get chucked to the bottom of the pile. This mentality must change,” added John.

SMK Raja Perempuan Kelsom –sporting the Victorian revival style of classical architecture – was built on land originally owned by a wealthy Malay woman named Che Midah, whose photos and memorabilia can still be found in the school.

The fourth British Resident of Perak Sir Hugh Low had built a new house in 1885 as his residence on the site of the original house.

Low’s house was in turn demolished in 1904 to make way for the construction of King’s Pavilion, a palatial mansion initially intended as accommodation for the British High Commissioner to the Federated Malay States.

It was later used as an office during the Japanese Occupation, then as a hostel for male students from the Malay College and finally as the Government English Girls School in Kuala Kangsar.

Hubback, the architect who designed several notable buildings in Malaysia, renovated the building in 1906 to its current design.

The girls’ school was renamed SMK Raja Perempuan Kelsom in 1970 by Sultan Idris Iskandar Shah II, who was the 33rd Sultan of Perak, in honour of his mother Raja Puteh Umi Kalsom.
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