Of the 80 heritage structures maintained by the PWD across the State, four are currently under renovation using techniques that are often outdated and need special expertise.
Senior officials of the Heritage Wing said that the major issue they face in renovating heritage structures is the availability of traditional construction materials that take time and patience to procure.
For instance, the limestone to pack the bricks is being sourced from Kazhugumalai near Tirunelveli, while the tiles used in these buildings are sourced from Athangudi.
Officials pointed out that they use only the sand from the Cauvery riverbank in and around Tiruchy as its quality of the sand is appropriate to be mixed with the limestone from Kazhugumalai. The bricks are also sourced only from Rajapalayam to maintain the quality of the heritage buildings.
“If these materials are taken from any other place, it won’t be suitable for the construction,” said K P Sathyamurthy, Joint Chief Engineer, PWD – Heritage wing.
Kalyanasundaram, Executive Engineer said that the engineers have researched for more than a month and found that structures built with lime mortar achieved more strength as they grew older, compared to other buildings. “So, we have planned traditional construction methods to add more strength to renovate heritage buildings in the State.
We use materials like limestone, river sand from Tiruchy and good quality bricks. We avoid using steel and cement. When traditional materials are used, the strength of the building is guaranteed for more than 200 years,” he said.
Officials pointed out that another major difficulty they encounter is finding workers who are adept at using these materials in construction. “These materials were used 2,000 years ago and there are very few in the field who have such experience,” Sathyamurthy said.
Officials also noted that they are not allowed to alter the structure of the building while renovating it. “We are not permitted to change it as it will ruin the original style,” said K P Sathyamurthy.
However, all old buildings in the State do not come under the Heritage Wing. The PWD is in the process of renovating Connemara library and Humayun Mahal in the city and Horse Cart Court in Coimbatore.
Connemara library, which was built in 1896, is being renovated by after the leaky and damaged roofs collapsed a few months ago. Officials said that it is being renovated after several years. Though the building comes under School Education Department, the PWD is renovating it at a cost of Rs 1.4 crore.
The renovation started two weeks ago and the roof is being reconstructed to be replaced by Madras terrace roof, an official said. “Usually, the maintenance is done by the School Education Department. But as it is under heritage restoration project, PWD is doing it. We will also recreate the inside of the roof with wooden planks.
The renovation work is being done by skilled labourers from Thiruvananthapuram and it is expected to be completed by the end of next year,” a PWD official said.
The 80,000 square feet building was damaged in a fire a few years ago. Recently, PWD brought experienced craftsmen to use bulls to churn limestones to renovate the building. Humayun Mahal will also get Madras Terrace roofing and the revamp is estimated at a cost of Rs 33.95 crore.
University of Madras
While the University building is not being renovated completely, the clock which has remained damaged for years is being repaired. Though the building comes under the School Education Department, this particular work is being done by PWD.
Horse cart (Kuthira Vandi) Court
One of the well-known heritage building in Coimbatore, the Kuthira vandi court, has been in a damaged condition for more than 20 years. Recently, the PWD was allotted with the fund for its facelift.
The Heritage Wing is also set to begin the work on Presidency College’s principal bungalow and George Town building at Rs 10 crore and Rs 9 crore respectively. The work is expected to start within two months.