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Friday January 29, 2010

Old Sibu Town Hall building getting a new lease of life

SIBU: In a town lacking of prominent historical buildings, plans to build a theatre of performing arts to replace the unused Sibu Town Hall was opposed by lawyer Robert Lau Hui Yew six years ago after he was appointed as a councillor of the Sibu Municipal Council (SMC).

Lau: I have not seen any buildings in Malaysia or other countries with zigzag concrete reinforced roofs.

This was because the architecturally-unique Sibu Town Hall was believed to be the only building with a zigzag concrete roof built by the British colonial government before Sarawak gained independence through Malaysia in 1963.

The building designed by Singapore firm Swan and Maclaren Architect in 1960 was completed in 1962.

When Sarawak became a British colony after the Second World War, the administration began an experiment in local government.

Election of representatives to the municipalities and district councils were held throughout Sarawak in 1959 in a secret ballot by the people.

The elected councillors represented the various communities.

From the representatives, a chairman was elected to head and execute the council’s responsibilities.

The Sibu Town Hall was built to accommodate the Sibu Urban District Council, the predecessor to SMC.

The hall was occupied for 38 years from April 23, 1962, to the year 2000.

Serving the public: File photo of the building taken in the early 1980s.

The two-storey building consists of two structures.

The outer structure served as the administrative centre while the inner structure known as the council’s chamber was the place where the elected councillors met to discuss, debate and formulate policies.

The chamber was designed like a miniature parliament with separate benches for ruling and opposition politicians.

There was a public gallery in the chamber where interested members of the public could sit to follow the proceedings.

“I have not seen any buildings in Malaysia or other countries with zigzag concrete reinforced roofs,” Lau told The Star.

Unique: The zigzag concrete roof of the old Sibu Town Hall building seen clearly here.

He said it would be a shame to demolish a unique and historically-important structure.

The building was abandoned in 2000 following SMC’s relocation to its present premises on the 24th and 25th floors of Wisma Sanyang, the tallest building in Sabah and Sarawak.

After fighting for its preservation at council meetings for several years, Lau won the hearts of fellow councillors who supported him in preserving and refurbishing the building to give it a new lease of life.

After refurbishment, the building will have a mini museum on the upper floor to showcase the history of Sibu and the culture and artifacts of the various races.

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