Restoration of heritage building goes wrong

Work on hold: Restoration work at the Fooi Chew Association building in Prangin Lane has hit a snag after it was found that the contractor did not comply with the recommended methods in preserving the heritage building. — LIM BENG TATT/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: For years, the almost 200-year-old Fooi Chew Association heritage building in Prangin Lane had been plagued by structural issues and termite infestation.

The association then decided to do something about it – but things went badly awry.

Conservationists cried foul over restoration work, which used non-breathable paint and cement.

This did not comply with recommended methods, which called for the use of lime plaster.

A stop-work order has now been slapped on the Category 1 heritage building, and the 201-year-old association has formed a special heritage conservation committee to deal with the matter.

Association chairman Datuk Lio Chee Yeong said besides the assistance of George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI), a registered heritage conservator had also been appointed to rectify the matter.

He said all work were stopped and the materials cleaned up.

“This building has had trouble with structural issues and termites for years,” he said.

“To attract more young members to join our activities, we decided to put in resources to restore our heritage building by appointing a contractor to do the job last year.”

The contractor, Lio added, had experience in heritage building repair and was expected to comply with all the rules and regulations as stated in the George Town Special Area Plan.

“But we were disappointed by his approach.

“To ensure no further damage to the building, I will make sure all future proceedings will be done according to the relevant rules and regulations,” he said, adding that works would only resume once the proper procedures were complied with.

Last week, a heritage activist described the restoration works as “a form of illegal heritage vandalism”.

George Town Heritage Action Group founder Mark Lay alleged that the use of non-breathable paint and cement instead of lime plaster went against the George Town Special Area Plan’s requirement for building methods.

The association was founded in 1822 by Hakka-speaking immigrants from the prefecture-level city of Huizhou (Fooi Chew in Hokkien), in the southern China province of Guangdong.

The building is one of 83 listed as Category 1 heritage buildings under the George Town Special Area Plan.

Checks at the association found its door being sealed with a notice under Section 46 of the Road, Drainage and Building Act 1974 from Penang Island City Council (MBPP).

Its walls were hacked and ceramic floor tiles outside the building were broken and removed.

MBPP secretary A. Rajendran said a stop-work order had been issued to the building owner, adding that council officers would monitor the building daily.

GTWHI general manager Dr Ang Ming Chee said the contractor was told to follow the proper procedures as listed under the special area plan.

“GTWHI will assist in the evaluation and assessment of this matter.

“This is an important Category 1 heritage building and works done must be carefully addressed and preserved,” she said, adding that GTWHI had also scheduled a few consultation sessions with the stakeholders to provide advice accordingly.

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