Sat, Jun 21, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Building on the past

A small, yet historically important part of Taiwan Normal University is currently at the center of heated debate over its plans to modernize

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Details of the Japanese colonial-style concrete window frames and green lattice windows that adorn Wenhui Hall.

PHOTO: GAVIN PHIPPS, TAIPEI TIMES

Over the past nine months a number of students at Taiwan Normal University (台灣師範大學) have had more than simply education on their minds.

Led by Chen Fen-yu (陳芬瑜), of the Graduate Institute of Environmental Education (環境教育研究所), members of the student body have been busily campaigning to save one of the university's oldest and most historic buildings, Wenhui Hall (文薈廳), as well as several trees that stand nearby.

While an agreement regarding the trees, one of which -- the Indian red sandalwood -- is 70 years old, has been reached and permanent homes have been found elsewhere on campus for them, the future of the hall itself remains a hotly debated issue.

Although the university doesn't intend to demolish the near 80-year-old, single-story structure, its plans to dismantle it and rebuild it as part of a massive modern building has become the focal point for widespread discussion, especially among the student body.

"Over a three-day period we got over 1,000 students to sign our petition asking the university to reconsider its plans," explained Chen. "We all feel the university considers modernization and prestige more important than [the university's] and Taipei's history."

Part of the university's redevelopment plan, the construction of the Yuezhe Building (樂智大樓) -- a 12-story building that will house lecture theaters, a post office, a personality testing center, as well as university administration offices -- is seen as crucial to the faculty's continuing growth.

The number of students studying there at present numbers roughly 9,000 and is expected to surpass 10,000 in the coming two to three years. The university also plans to open several new departments in the near future.

Located on the easterly flank of the university's striking main administration building, the Putong Building (普通教室大樓), Wenhui Hall was constructed in 1926. Originally serving as the

university's student activity center, the red brick building, which is approximately 30m in length and 12m wide, is now home to the university's oldest on-campus bakery, which has been selling its breads and cakes to students for 70 years.

The Japanese-built structure features elements of colonial architectural style that many feel are important aspects of both the university and the city's cultural heritage.

Features such as the brick pillars, which run along the structure's front porch, as well as the concrete flower-patterned window frames and ornate green lattice widows that adorn the building's northern and southern walls, are seen as irreplaceable.

According to Wang Yi-chun (王逸群) of the Taipei City Cultural Affairs Bureau (台北市文化局) -- the department responsible for the preservation of the capital's 106 protected buildings -- the university does not have the right to simply do as it pleases. It must submit plans to both Taipei City Government and the Ministry of Education (MOE) for planning permission.

It appears that while overseeing the nation's educational policies the MOE does in fact have little say as to what Taiwan Normal University does. A spokesperson for the MOE informed us that contrary to Wang's statement the matter is one for the university itself and does not concern the ministry.

A report issued by the university in March cited the lack of on-campus space as the reason for not being able to relocate the building. A lack of off-campus space and capital to purchase new land were cited as reasons for opting for the on campus site.

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