V.O.C School, Puducherry -138 heritage site is now restored - a legacy of French rule

The recent restoration of the 138-year-old V.O.C. School of Puducherry is an important milestone in the history of this place, once a part of the French settlement. The listed Grade II A heritage structure was in ruins for a long time despite protests from heritage lovers and  people to get the building back to old glory. Though the Thane cyclone in 2014 caused considerable damages and gave a wake up call, again there was  lull on the part of officials primarily due to  redtapism and the building was facing further damages owing to non-action. The 2012 ASI report focussed on the poor condition of the heritage buildings and it was not taken seriously by the officials concerned.  

In the middle of August 2021 the  Puducherry Smart City Development Limited (PSCDL) provided a unique opportunity and approved to restore two time-honored heritage buildings, one being the V.O.C. School (established in 1886) and a sum of 2.8 crore was allocated to restore it. The school was earlier known as the Ecole Primaire de Garons  and was renamed after freedom fighter, lawyer  and union labor leader  V.O. Chidambaram Pillai. He was the first Indian who had started the Swadeshi Shipping company in colonial India to run the shipping services between Thoothukudi and Ceylon. The English shipping company under the A & F. CO gave him serious trouble and made him close the sipping co.

The structure, along with two other government schools - Calve College and the Pensionnat De Jeunes Filles, considered to be India’s only French girls’ high schools,  were managed by the Puducherry government.  After the collapse of the 114 year old Town Hall (Mairie) in 2014,  they were closed down as a precautionary measure.
According to INTACH the building  became unsafe due to over- growth of vegetation and tree roots that impacted the roof and walls causing cracks. The major restoration works involved  were replacement of the Madras terrace roof and the wooden joist ceiling with precast cement rafters. The wall plastering was done with  composite mixed lime and the  compound wall was replaced with a cast iron fence. New  electrical lines were re-laid. The conservationists preserved all the trees on the campus to  give better ambiance. 

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), the architectural consultant for PSCDL carefully restored the 138 year old building without compromising on the heritage aspects.The restoration cost was ₹2.85 crore.  The restored building was formally inaugurated by Lt. Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan and Chief Minister N. Rangasamy in November, 2023. Soon the school will be reopen for the students (work on the building began in 2021) .
Until 1960, the school followed the French system of education  and later  switched over to Tamil medium.

Puducherry restored V.O.C. School, thehindu.com/

Above image:  V.O.C. School, Puducherry, S. India. A tall  arched entrance with a simple pediment above the parapet. Doric columns support the exterior verandah.

 restored V.O.C. School, Puducherry Instagram.com/

restored V.O.C. School, Puducherry Instagram.com

damaged VOC School, Puducherry.twitter.com/markrajarathnam
damaged  VOC School, Puducherry. facebook.com/pavithran

Following the architectural features of the Calve College which came up before the school the facade of the building appears grand with tall and large doric columns The U- shape plan with classrooms around the courtyard gives better air flow and natural sunlight. 

VOC School before restoration . thehindu.com

A building with columnated porch 

The distinctive features rare in this part of Tamil country are colonnaded verandahs  supported by tall  doric columns in the  interior, overlooking the courtyard. They also feature on the exterior side, giving an impressive look to the frontage which is on a high plinth. This and other heritage buildings remind us of the French rule in this part and their legacy.