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Spread wings, shrink space

Three reputable Calcutta schools are expanding at the cost of open spaces on their campuses, a move prompted by the need to add seats and facilities.

La Martiniere for Girls will raise a new building on the patch of green to the left just as one enters the school through the AJC Bose Road gate. St. James’ School will have its junior block at one end of the playground while Calcutta Boys’ School is set to replace a drill shed with a four-storey building that is going to house a cafeteria, gymnasium, computer labs and classrooms.

The proposed 40,000sq ft five-storey building at St. James’ will shrink the open area by 8,000sq ft, although the school says it was careful “not to eat into the play area” on the campus.

Spread across 7.5 acres, the St. James’ campus already has two three-storey buildings. The total built-up area will eat up 1.15 acres once the new building comes up.

“Before the building was planned, we had discussed whether it would encroach on the play area and if we could still hold our annual athletics meet there. We can manage that and so we went ahead. We need the new building and have had to compromise on some open space for the growth and development of the school,” said Terence Ireland, the principal of St. James’.

The site of the proposed junior block had hosted the throwing and jumping events during previous athletics meets. These events will have to be shifted elsewhere next year.

Kindergarten to Class IV will shift to the new block, construction of which is slated to begin next month and finish in the next 18 to 24 months.

At La Martiniere for Girls, a seven-storey building has been planned on the patch of green opposite the Millennium Building.

The building plan is awaiting sanction and construction is unlikely to start before the end of the year. The building will have a swimming pool on the ground floor and an audio-visual room along with classrooms.

Concrete will account for a little less than half of the approximate six-acre campus after the proposed building comes up. The school currently has two three-storey buildings and a four-storey and a two-storey block each.

The post-expansion built-up area on the 3.6-acre Calcutta Boys’ campus will cover about 1.2 acres since the school already has three three-storey buildings.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation stipulates that buildings should not occupy more than 50 per cent of the campus space. All three schools in expansion mode meet that criterion, although architects say that 70 per cent open space is ideal for an educational institution.

The schools argue that increased demand for seats and the need to provide additional facilities have forced their hand. Both La Martiniere for Girls and St. James’ need space to accommodate more students, given the gulf between the number of applicants and seats.

Two years ago, La Martiniere for Girls had added a section to its nursery wing. This year, the school increased one section each from classes I to V.

At St. James’, 40 seats will be added to the existing 140 in the nursery section next year.

Calcutta Boys’ needs more classrooms because it is reducing the number of students in each class by increasing the sections.

“We are not encroaching on the football field, which we also use for cricket and badminton. We don’t have a swimming pool but need to build a gymnasium for the boys. We are converting the shed so that we don’t eat into the open area,” said Raja McGee, principal of Calcutta Boys’.

The schools said they need to upgrade now with an eye on the future. “We would love to have a lot of green space but we also need to plan for laboratories for new-age subjects such as robotics and astrophysics,” said Lorraine Mirza, principal of La Martiniere for Girls.

In doing so, the challenge for the three schools is to keep their heritage intact.

Located in the heart of the city, Calcutta Boys’ is the youngest among the trio and dates back to 1877. The oldest, La Martiniere, was set up in 1836 and St. James’ in 1864.

“We cannot touch our main buildings… they are heritage property. So we have to look for other ways to expand,” said Ireland of St. James’.

School planners say a campus should reflect more than an institution’s pedagogy. “The child is looking for an environment that is educative, and the best example perhaps is Santiniketan. The more connection you have with nature the better your education,” said architect Anjan Mitra.

According to him, classrooms might be the focus of a school’s design but an architect shouldn’t forget that a lot happens in the corridors too. Children should get a sense of space at school, not just a big playing field but smaller patches of green visible from classrooms.

“It’s important for the management to take the needs of smaller children into account. They should get a demarcated area to play in because when the older boys are in the field, the younger ones feel intimidated,” said architect Partha Ranjan Das.

Many schools say they have to make a choice between expanding laterally or vertically, like Modern High School for Girls has done.

“We are very possessive about space and we would not give even half a corner for a building. It is a difficult balance to strike, yet one is always starved of space and would like to have different types of libraries. But it is an individual preference,” said Devi Kar, director of Modern High.

Newer schools on the city’s outskirts, of course, have more space to play with. The Heritage School on Chowbaga Road in Anandapur has the luxury of a 10-acre campus. “Children need open spaces to run around,” said Seema Sapru, the school’s principal.

Should open spaces be reduced to add other facilities? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com