LAOAG CITY – The proposed demolition of a heritage building has continued to fuel debates among local leaders who support the conversion of an elementary school compound into a shopping mall and those who want to preserve the structure.
The proposed mall project has also pitted city officials against provincial leaders who are opposed to the city’s plan to demolish the Laoag Central Elementary School (LCES) housing a two-story Gabaldon-type building, a structure used by the country’s public schools in the early 1900s.
On Monday, the provincial board passed an ordinance calling for a one-year moratorium on the demolition and conversion of heritage structures in the province. The prohibition covers the LCES.
During a public hearing before its passage, city officials, led by Mayor Michael Fariñas, questioned the board for including the LCES and other structures in the resolution without consulting them.
Fariñas also questioned the board for its supposed “insidious” action of deliberating and passing a measure at a time when the city government has a plan to demolish the school building.
“Why only now that the province is moving to declare [the school] a historical landmark?” Fariñas asked the board.
But Board Member Kristian Ablan, son of Ilocos Norte Rep. Roque Ablan Jr., said it has been a provincial government policy to protect heritage sites.
“The ordinance was filed because of the threat [over the school’s demolition]. As provincial dads, we have to take up the cudgels and move to protect it,” he said.
“Will the city officials wake up and come to their senses that the edifice is of historical import to the province?” he asked.
Fariñas, however, said he has records to show that the LCES is not a Gabaldon-type building and it does not need preservation.
“It is unfortunate and painful that despite our explanations [on the status of the LCES], the board went on to pass the ordinance,” he said.
Fariñas, however, said the school’s demolition would take off even if it takes a longer process.
Architect Reynaldo Inovero of the National Historical Institute said the LCES is consistent with the character of a Gabaldon schoolhouse.
“The LCES is a rare two-story Gabaldon building that was designed for tropical countries ... it has wooden sidings, swing-out windows with capiz panels and an elevated ground floor for additional ventilation,” he said.
Inovero, who attended the hearing, said the Laoag school building is a typical structure from the American colonial era.
The city government acquired the school lot from the Roman Catholic Church through a donation in 1924.
The shopping mall project, signed in December last year, is covered by a 25-year lease agreement executed by the city government, the Laoag Catholic Diocese represented by Bishop Sergio Utleg and mall developer Bellagio Holdings Inc.
Under the agreement, the school will be relocated to a five-hectare lot fronting the Laoag bishop’s residence at the city’s northern section.
The mall developer will bear the cost of acquiring the lot and building the school and later donate the properties to the city government. It will also pay monthly rentals to the city and diocese.
The proposed school site will house three separate buildings with 24 classrooms and complete education facilities such as a library, music room, auditorium, computer room and facilities for nursery and kindergarten.
The school will also be provided with shuttle buses whose operation will be borne by the city government.