Colonial Lady Willingdon Higher sec. school for boys and Girls, Chennai - urgent action alone can save them ’

The Tamil Nadu government  in the recent past embarked on a useful project  of giving a facelift to  100-year-old heritage buildings, which are currently functioning as State-owned schools across all districts. A unique, but an important feature of this proposed renovation work is it would  be done under the guidance of experts without affecting their heritage or cultural values. The initial cost will be Rs. 25 crores and additional funds would be made available if need arose.

Chennai  Lady Willingdon Higher secondary

The officials said specials attention would be paid to the lab and library rooms  and other structures  to safeguard their antiquity  so that they could  be useful for the next generation of  students. That  “The renovated structure of the schools will be constantly monitored by the experts,”  is a positive proposal. As the schools are pretty old,  ''rare books and old documents in the libraries will be digitised,”

Lady Willingdon Higher Secondary School, Chennai.

The crux of the matter is the government does not have an official list of government schools functioning in the heritage  buildings  and according to the media report,  in Chennai and neighboring districts, alone there are as many as 10 such schools that need to  be repaired and restored.  Prominent among them are   Lady Willingdon Higher Secondary School on Beach Road, Triplicane close to Vivekananda House  and the 240-year-old Presidency Girls Higher Secondary School in Egmore.  

Identification of schools existing for more than 100 years is the first step in the right direction and it will be done jointly  by a special committee made of PWD officials and experts from the Building Centre and Conservation Division besides authorities from the School Education Department. Fund allocation  for  each school would  be decided  once the list was  finalized based on the condition of the structures.

Unfortunately one of the oldest schools in Chennai,  Lady Willingdon Higher secondary school founded in  1922  is not listed  for restoration. It was inaugurated  by Lady Willingdon. This heritage school was in a shabby state in 2017 and the government sanctioned more than Rs. 40 lakhs for urgent renovation. The heritage structure has 36 classrooms and labs out of which only 24 are  in use. In the rest, the condition of the building is  not good and might pose threats to the safety of young students and had been shut for more than two years. The PWD dept took the responsibility of repairing the school building.

The building that houses Lady Willingdon Higher Secondary School for Girls’,Triplicane is also more than 100 years old and because of poor upkeep the condition of the building was not good and the exterior looked shabby with cracks on the wall and growth of vegetation. Once a famous auditorium, it  was leaky with broken windows and doors. The stage had wood floor that needed  repairs. Like auditorium  certain  interior parts were leaky and needed urgent repairs. The building had two cases wooden one and the other was spiral stairway with railing leading to the upper floor. Both were not maintained well. 

The entire building needed  immediate attention of the government. Both schools  Lady Willingdon Higher secondary school and Lady Willingdon Higher Secondary School for Girls’ that were famous are functioning in buildings that are not periodically repaired for decades and this is due to apathy on the part of the education department who has a responsibility toward the safety and welfare of the students who are studying in the midst of decaying building. This kind of ambiance in the school won't motivate them. 

In the month of May 2015, a part of the compound wall collapsed, fortunately there no casualty as the school was closed for summer  vacation.  The school management never provided proper toilet facilities for a long time primarily due to redtape. Toilets being crucial for good health and hygiene there was no proper disposal of human urine and faeces.  Because of very poor sanitation facilities many girl students missed the school on account of   hygiene-related illnesses. Further, it is said there was no privacy in the parts containing toilets.  More than 400 students were enrolled in the school and for them it was hell to use  toilet facilities on the school premises. Neither the principal nor the teachers could have contacted the Department of education and set things right for the students.