Are public school houses furnaces?

A week ago, students “hothoused” in some public schools fainted and were rushed to medical centers. DepEd spokesman Mr. Michael Poa announced that when the heat is unbearable, school authorities can cancel in-person classes and revert to Alternative Delivery Modes (ADMs). The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) declared that we should never have abandoned the old school calendar when there were no classes during the hottest months of the year. Public schools are not equipped to deal with high temperatures during the dry season. However, there was a time when public school houses were especially designed for tropical weather.

Long ago, public school houses were a sight to behold. I am referring to the Gabaldon school houses. Assemblyman Isauro Gabaldon of Nueva Ecija authored Act 1801 or the Gabaldon Act of 1907 which stipulated that every barrio, municipality and province should have a school house in order to promote the American educational system. One million pesos ( US$1=Rp 1.00) was earmarked for the Gabaldon Act.

When Architect Daniel Burnham came in 1904, he had a team of architects which included William Parsons who became a consultant of the Bureau of Public works; he supervised the construction of public buildings and parks, blending traditional Philippine architecture with modern American construction technology. Parsons was enamored with the bahay kubo and the bahay na bato, the gabled nipa roofs, voladas, barandillas, calados and large swing out windows of capiz which filtered natural light and made houses airy. He applied those features to the public schools they built.

Soon the first batch of Filipino pensionados came home: Tomas Mapua, Antonio Toledo, Carlos Baretto, the Arellano brothers, Juan and Arcadio, were recruited by the Bureau of Public works. Like Architect Parsons, they used Filipino images and designs in their works. It can be argued that the Gabaldon school houses project was the incubator of modern Philippine architecture.

The best hardwoods were used for the Gabaldon; posts, beams, rafters, flooring, trusses, walls, doors and carved (calado) friezes placed between wall and ceiling for air circulation and light were made of molave, narra, apitong and acacia, to name a few species. About 10 to 15 full grown trees were needed depending on the size of the Gabaldon school which could have from 1 to 20 rooms. Later, concrete, hollow blocks, and other materials were used to save trees.

The location had to be well-drained land with ample spaces behind the building for a playground, school garden and additional classrooms. The front of the building had a lawn and decorative shrubbery. Classrooms were designed so light could come from behind or from the left shoulder of the students. There were sanitary outhouses for boys and girls.

Compare the Gabaldons to school houses we have been building since post WWII. You may have seen the Magsaysay type, the TEEP for secondary and tertiary education, the RP-US standard, Bagong Lipunan I-III and Marcos prefab, a series of FVR 2006, DPWH’s modified standard, the ubiquitous DepEd standard and the model school of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Most were hurriedly constructed with no regard for design. Classrooms have slatted windows that impede air circulation and shut out the light. Imagine them packed with at least 80 students trying to get an education in the sweltering heat.

In 2002, DepEd Secretary Edilberto de Jesus and the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS) signed a Memorandum of Agreement for a “Gabaldon School Houses Restoration Project” which restored to their original glory the Rizal Elementary School (1904. Bacolod), Pampanga Elementary School, Baguio Central School ( 1911) and the Legarda Elementary School designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro. When Secretary de Jesus resigned, his successor, Mr. Florencio Abad, continued the Gabaldon project with the HCS, which sadly ended when Mr. Jesli Lapus became secretary in 2005.

When Brother Armin Luistro became DepEd secretary in 2013, he resumed the restoration of Gabaldons as he believed that education is about passing core values and knowledge of the past. During his term, the DepEd renovated 40 Gabaldons with a budget of Php 322 million. His successor, Dr. Leonor Briones, immediately decreed the full restoration of Gabaldons, assigning Under Secretary for Administration Alain Pascua, to head the conservation program. DepEd spent Php 300 million to restore 37 more Gabaldons.

What a pleasant surprise– Pres. Rodrigo Duterte signed R.A. 11194 titled “Gabaldon School Buildings Conservation Act” which mandates local government units to protect these important cultural treasures, strictly prohibit demolitions as well as unapproved modifications and alterations. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the National Museum have to facilitate the enforcement of its provisions. By 2018, DepEd had restored an additional 193 Gabaldon schools at the cost of Php 2 billion. Today, there are still 2, 019 Gabaldons in existence.

Gabaldon school houses have passed the test of time; today’s architects and constructors should consult archival materials of the Bureau of Public Works during American colonial times. This incredible trove is found in the American Historical Society collection housed in the Rizal Library of the Ateneo de Manila University . For easy reference, one should get a copy of “The American Colonial Public School Buildings in the Philippines, the Archival Materials” published by the NCCA.