KUALA LUMPUR: The decaying century-old cluster of colonial buildings at the junction of Jalan Raja and Jalan Tun Perak here will be given a facelift.
The iconic buildings include the old Federated Malay States (FMS) Survey Office and Supreme Court.
Kuala Lumpur Mayor Datuk Nor Hisham Ahmad Dahlan told the New Straits Times that the former custodian of the buildings, the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry, had handed them over to City Hall for the RM120 million upgrade.
“We will open them up soon to the public and access will be free. You can walk inside the buildings and take pictures.
“But those who want to use them for private functions will have to pay,” he said, adding that a bangsawan (Malay opera) play had been scheduled for Panggung Bandaraya’s reopening.
“Our main concern is securing the place. We need to have enough guards. I am afraid that the homeless will make the place theirs.
“They have been using the fountain in the area to bathe,” he said, referring to the fountain and pools at the Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
He said part of the allocation for the upgrade was expected to be used for the restorative work outside the building.
It is yet to be established whether the money will be used for damaged water features, tiles and marble slabs of the courtyard there, built under the controversial River of Life (RoL) project.
(The NST reported in October that it would cost taxpayers another RM1 million to fix and replace vandalised fountains and weathered fittings. The upgrades, part of the project’s RM130 million flagship, had been handed over to City Hall for barely six months before the additional maintenance allocation was required.)
Hisham, however, said the rejuvenation work, including the structural upgrade, was being monitored by registered conservators under the National Heritage Department (NHD).
He said the job was 100 per cent City Hall’s and outsiders could submit ideas, but would not be recruited.
“The project is ours. We don’t want to pay people (consultants) and have them claim that it is theirs.”
City Hall’s Project Implementation and Building Maintenance Department senior deputy director, Norzaini Noordin, said the involvement of outsiders was limited to registered conservators.
“This is an NHD requirement and we have to update the dilapidation report commissioned for the buildings,” she said, referring to a report done when City Hall sought but failed to take over the buildings.
She said the allocation would be stretched out over a period of 10 years or more so that a thorough job could be done.
The decision to spread the funds was based on Malaysian Institute of Architects’ Heritage and Conservation Committee head Steven Thang’s conservation strategy for the iconic structures, pitched by NST in a special report.
Thang, enlisted by the NST to analyse the degradation, had prescribed RM200 million to be spread over a decade or two.
Norzaini said Panggung Bandaraya (at the old City Hall), parts of the old City Hall headquarters and the courtyard of the cluster would be opened in May.
“We are planning to open the Supreme Court. But this will be after we have done some work on the building, and after it is declared safe for use.
“The building will be a creative space for exhibitors and community programmes,” she said, adding that the funds were not from RoL’s allocation, but City Hall’s instead.
However, she said, it would take some time for the FMS Survey Office to be restored as it was in a bad state.
NST had reported that the office and the old City Hall were in need of urgent repairs.
Experts projected the collapse of its roofing in the next five years or earlier if nothing was done.
Two domes in Jalan Tun Perak were on the verge of falling off, stripping the buildings of their identity.
Overall, the cost of plugging the leaks, as well as fixing the roofing and domes, is expected to be between RM10 million and RM15 million.
Exterior walls, plastering and the brickwork of the old Supreme Court and the FMS Survey Office are flaking off.
To make matters worse, a Bollywood production crew, which was allowed to use the cluster’s shared courtyard, had painted the FMS Survey Office’s walls.
Thang, who was recruited to oversee a conservation project at the old Supreme Court involving RoL that was shelved in 2017, said the buildings had been left as they were.
Algae, wet rot, plants, creepers and trees were already fixtures on the roofs of the buildings ever since they were left vacant after the relocation of the court to Jalan Duta in 2007.
The FMS Survey Office building appears to be in the worst state.
A tree was found growing in its air well, while the roof and other wooden structures like the staircase crumbled under the weight of neglect.
Thang had, however, said the dilapidation report done while the conservation work was under way had marked the icons as structurally sound.
Budget constraints are believed to be the reason why the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry relinquished the management and operation of the buildings.
The ministry had told the NST that Think City Sdn Bhd, in its assessment, reported that it would take RM200 million to restore the buildings.
A check by the NST recently found City Hall was doing work on its old headquarters. It had been painting and reinforcing the building.