By Mariam Mokhtar
In tropical ecosystems, the termite is considered an important ecosystem engineer, whose habitat can affect the survival of other species (Jouquet et al., 2006). Its diet consists of dried grass, decaying leaves, animal dung, humus, as well as living and dead wood (Brossard et al., 2007). It functions like a voracious vacuum cleaner on the forest floor, eating anything which is in its way.
Humans consider the termite to be a pest. Once it builds a nest in the ground, termite infestation can destroy a building and render it unsafe. Homeowners have seen the value of their houses drop, because termites have attacked the wood. They have a serious economic impact on man-made structures like buildings, houses and cultivated crops. Once termite infestation is discovered, their removal is usually costly.
Land clearing, for making more homes, tree stumps, and stacks of wood provide an abundant source of food for the termites. They may also cause serious damage to annual and perennial crops and the wooden buildings in cleared settlements.
In early July, it was reported that the much treasured SK King Edward VII (1) in Taiping, was unsafe and at imminent risk of collapse, because of termite infestation and the natural degradation of the structures over the years.
Readers will recall that in 2011, the “Big School” of Malay College Kuala Kangsar had also been rendered unsafe by termites.
SK King Edward VII is 135 years old and had originally been built at another location, then moved, in 1905, to the present site. From its humble origins, the school expanded and because of its popularity, currently employs a total of 52 teachers.
Perak Metro reported that the wooden floor of the school’s main building, its roof and the ceiling of the two storey building was deteriorating and leaking. The building is made partly of brick, and shows signs of degradation in other structural areas.
In 2015, the severity of the damage from termite infestation forced the Public Works Department (PWD) to declare the building unsafe, after its staff inspected the roof and floors.
According to the chairman of the Parents Teacher association, Balraaj Singh Tarlachon Singh, both the roof and floor would have to be replaced to make it safe.
In an interview with Perak Metro, he expressed his fear that the floor could collapse at any time, and he blamed the age of the building and the damage caused by termites.
Despite the poor and unsafe condition of the wooden parts of the school building, Balraaj said that the building’s exterior, was still stable and none of the brilliance of its colonial architecture had been diminished.
He said, “The school was built in 1883 and it has been listed as part of the Taiping Heritage Trail or Jejak Warisan Taiping, which was started by the state government in 2015.
“The ground floor ceiling of the school’s main building is also damaged due to leaks in the roof.
“The main building is the oldest part of the school and also the most impressive. The building immediately catches the eye, as soon as one enters the school grounds.
“We really hope that the repairs for the building can be completed as soon as possible for the safety of the pupils and teachers.”
When the PWD declared the building unsafe, the school had to operate two sessions, morning and afternoon, to accommodate all the classes and students.
Balraaj complained that the authorities had been dragging their feet over the resolution of the termite infestation and claimed that the long time lapse, would probably increase the cost of treatment.
He mentioned the outrage of many parents who had been forced to withdraw their child from the school and place them in other schools, because the timber had not been treated.
He said, “Because of this problem, many parents became impatient with the length of time it was taking to start repairs to the building and eventually transferred their children to other schools. As a result enrolment has dropped from 800 to 538.”
Balraaj expressed his frustration with the Taiping District Education Office, the PWD and other relevant authorities who had all contributed to the delays in repairing the school.
He said, “The last word I received was that work was supposed to commence in February, and that, based on the damage, the repairs would take between eight to ten months to complete.
“I was also informed, by the principal that the repairs were expected to cost about RM2 million, though the figure might be higher now.
“We sincerely hope that the Education Ministry will look into our plight and help the school.”
Balraaj has also urged more parents to show their concern and help the school.
The Ipoh Echo has taken up the concerns of the PTA and students of the SK King Edward VII (1) in Taiping. Will the Ministry of Education respond to Balraaj Singh, in a timely manner?
Will the Menteri Besar, Ahmad Faizal Azumu, also take up this worthy cause and prompt the necessary people to take immediate action?