Demolition work has started on an old school building that has been Jawalakhel's landmark for nearly a century despite calls from old students and teachers that the building should be preserved.
The former Rana palace was built in 1912 by King Tribhuban for his daughter when she married Tara SJB Rana, who then sold it to the Jesuits in 1954 to house the newly-opened St Xavier's School. Over the decades, thousands of Nepali boys have studied in the building's high-ceilinged classrooms. It is now deemed to be structurally unsound, but there is disagreement about whether it should be replaced with a new building, or the existing structure strengthened.
"The old building served well for a good number of years, but since the safety of students and staff is of utmost importance, we have no alternative but to pull it down," says principal Fr Lawrence Maniyar, spreading out the blueprint of a new building that will replace the old one. Engineers called to inspect the building determined that even a small tremor would bring the 11-room structure down. Lawrence says it will be cheaper to tear down the building and construct a new one, rather than carry out an expensive renovation.
But for old students of the school as well as teachers, there is an emotional attachment to their alma mater. Some of the critics of the demolition plan are Lawrence's own faculty colleagues, who say the building is a part of Nepal's architectural heritage and Jesuit history. Vijaya Man Singh, of the class of 1977, says: "The building is a landmark, its value cannot be counted in money alone." His classmate, Bidesh Shah, agrees: "At least the front fa?ade should be maintained."
Architect Bibhuti Man Singh, who has designed many of Kathmandu's modern buildings, contests the argument that the Jawalakhel palace had much historic value as some of the better-known Rana palaces in the Valley. "It didn't have much stylistic unity in architectural terms, it was more walls than space," says Singh. His design for the new building has a brick fa?ade and tries to keep some of the classical elements of the old building with Corinthian columns and cornices, while integrating it with an indigenous exposed red brick fa?ade.
St Xavier's is presently on a fund-raising drive to finance the new four-storey building, which is estimated to cost
Rs 110 million. The new building will be multi-use and facilitate the school's expansion plans.