'Form dept for heritage buildings'

By Balvin Kaur |  

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government has been urged to set up a department that exclusively handles the maintenance and upkeep of historic and heritage buildings.

Penang Heritage Trust vice-president Khoo Salma Nasution said in the past, the Public Works Department (PWD) was entrusted with conducting regular maintenance and repair work, even for minor leaks, at state-owned heritage buildings.

Khoo, who is a former Penang Island City Councillor (MBPP), said the approach and philosophy helped to avoid huge repair bills in the long run.

However, she said PWD’s role today in the maintenance of heritage buildings was “virtually non-existent”.

“During the colonial period, PWD repaired all buildings every three months, ensuring that their structures were shipshape.

“Even the military forces carried out maintenance works and painted the buildings every two years. But now, it appears that the local government agencies in Penang are paying no heed to the upkeep of historic buildings, save for a few select ones,” she told the New Straits Times.

Khoo cautioned that without urgent repairs, many heritage buildings, including the iconic Penang townhall building, had been left in a state of disrepair.

A recent report showed that the 140-year-old Class I heritage building, located in Jalan Padang Kota Lama, was filled with rainwater due to leaks from the roof, which had permeated the ground floor as well.

The Penang government had said a tender to restore the building would be called in August.

Khoo, however, said the authorities’ approach in restoring buildings only when they were completely ruined or nearing a ruinous state was not the right approach.

She said MBPP, which runs and operates the townhall, ought to change its view on the upkeep of such buildings.

Khoo said an urgent rethink of maintenance of heritage buildings must be put in place.

“For starters, all heritage buildings, including the ones outside the George Town World Heritage site, ought to be inventoried.

“This includes the largely neglected Seberang Prai Municipal Council (MPSP) area as well.”

Khoo said both councils ought to set up their own conservation units and conduct repairs on their own, instead of outsourcing them to private parties.

She cited an example of Penang Hill’s government bungalows, which had been neglected for a long time and later outsourced to private companies for restoration.

“One small leak, you immediately fix it.

“It will not cost much, as opposed to leaving it like that for a long time.”

Khoo said given that MPSP had been conferred city status by the cabinet, it ought to take the lead by forming its own Heritage Conservation Department.

She said there was plenty of potential for MPSP to lead the way. A city council, she also noted, would have more funding to carry out repairs on important heritage buildings.

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