The imposing gate at the entrance into Penang Free School was built only in the 1970s and was never part of the original building plans some 50 years earlier. Here is an insight into the proposal to build the gate and the subsequent approval by the Board of Governors. This is an adapted extract from my forthcoming book on the history of Penang Free School:
In 1975, Goon Fatt Chee first mooted to the Board of Governors the necessity to build a main School Gate and four smaller gates at the other entrances, although real discussions on this ambitious project were only initiated in 1976. Based on his estimates, the cost of constructing the main gate would be about $40,000 while each of the smaller ones would cost less than $10,000. Two years later, he expressed confidence to the Board that funds could be raised for the gates’ construction from donations and the School would not have to bear the expenses.
A disgruntled voice among the Governors questioned whether the gates were needed at all, but the Headmaster argued that the School deserved a front gate worthy of its stature and prestige. Further, he said, proper school gates would help considerably in tightening security of the school premises and keeping trespassers out. Another of the Governors spoke of adopting a less elaborate design but in the opinion of the Chairman of the Board of Governors, “nothing short of the best and most impressive was worthy of the School.” Eventually, a vote was taken of the Governors with seven in favour of the project and one against.
In providing more information to the Board, the Headmaster said that the design shown to the Board had been drawn up by the pupils of the School under the supervision of the Senior Art Teacher. Much attention and care had been paid to ensure that the design retained the motifs of the main school building so that it would be in congruity with the architectural design of the parent building.
In 1977 Dato’ Ch’ng Eng Hye responded generously to the School’s appeal for donations to build the main School Gate. According to the School Magazine, three generations of the Choong family had studied at the School. Ch’ng was a pupil of the Free School from 1919 to 1923 – he was the Head Prefect in 1923 – and his sons, Eddy Choong Ewe Beng, Freddie Choong Ewe Eong, David Choong Ewe Leong and Louis Choong , were also educated here, as well as many of his grandchildren. The other Old Boys that donated to the cause were Loh Kah Kheng, Lim Seng Hock and Teh Choon Beng.
The main gate, constructed at a cost of about $23,000, was modelled on similar arch patterns found in the School. The slanting roof, pillars, motifs of rings and criss-cross patterns were similar to those on the main school building. The project began in late 1978 and finished sometime near the end of the second term in 1979. The School Gate was declared open officially by Ch’ng on 29th September 1979.
The Headmaster, in his school report at Speech Day 1978, paid tribute to the spirit of love and loyalty of the Old Frees who had rallied to the call of the Alma Mater. “The School required some gates that reflect the architectural grandeur of the main building,” he said, “and out spoke generous Dato’ Ch’ng Eng Hye, an Old Free. ‘I’ll donate the main gate to the Grand Old School,’ he had told the Board of Governors. We are proud of him. Other groups of Old Frees came forward too and said they too would donate for the two small gates.”