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Jakarta Post

Parishioners split on Cathedral AC installation

Parishioners split on Cathedral AC installation cathedral: Faith and humidity: Jakarta Cathedral basks in the sun. The Catholic church was built during Dutch occupation in 1901 and was named a heritage building. The parishioners are currently split over a plan to install air conditioning in the church. (JP/P.J. Leo) (JP/P.J. Leo)
Indah Setiawati
Jakarta   ●   Mon, May 6, 2013

cathedral: Faith and humidity: Jakarta Cathedral basks in the sun. The Catholic church was built during Dutch occupation in 1901 and was named a heritage building. The parishioners are currently split over a plan to install air conditioning in the church. (JP/P.J. Leo)

Father Antonius Dijkman must have taken into consideration the humidity in Batavia when he designed the neo-gothic Catholic church that was built there in 1901. The majestic Jakarta Cathedral has a vast wooden ceiling, 60-meters long and 20-meters wide, allowing the building to cool via air circulation.

However, the Dutch architect probably would not have envisaged that over 100 years later, churchgoers and visitors would be debating a plan to install an air conditioning (AC) system in the church.

Some church goers said the humidity cut short their praying time, while others were concerned that an AC system would damage the construction and historical value of the heritage building.

'€œI don'€™t think the church will receive permission to install air conditioning because it may disturb the birds and the museum upstairs. I personally can deal with the heat,'€ Maya, a regular churchgoer who often joins the evening holy mass, told The Jakarta Post recently.

Meanwhile, Rahman, another churchgoer, said he could not stand the heat during afternoon holy mass and big events such as Christmas and Easter.

He hoped the church would find a solution to set up an AC system without disturbing the construction of the building.

'€œWe need comfort when we pray. If we have access to air conditioning, we may have better concentration as we don'€™t need to busily fan ourselves.'€

Yohanes Tris, who has been an active member of the church for 50 years, said parishioners had sometimes fainted in certain areas of the church, especially near where candles were lit. He said he had raised the issue of installing an AC system many years ago, but former Jakarta archbishops did not approve the idea.

Head of the cathedral, priest Brata Kartana S.J, did not give clear comments when asked about the plan to install the system, saying that he had given responsibility to answer the questions to a team appointed by the church.

'€œYou can see what is happening in this church for yourself. I can only tell you that the managers of the church are not stupid,'€ he said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, none of the team appointed by the church returned text messages and calls made by the Post over the past three days.

Churchgoers and historical building lovers shared their concerns on their Facebook accounts. Dhanu Wibowo, a member of Komunitas Historia Indonesia (Indonesian History Community), posted a picture of a letter signed by dozens of churchgoers on April 23, which opposed the plan of the church to install air conditioning with a water chiller system that used an air handling unit.

Archeologist Djulianto Susatio said he was astonished to see construction workers using wooden poles for scaffolding when he visited the museum at the cathedral on April 20.

'€œThe design picture I saw from a worker showed a plan to break the wall, door and glass windows. On May 30, I heard from a member of a historical community that the wooden poles were gone,'€ he said.

He added that he was worried an AC installation with a split or central system would endanger the historical building.

When the Post visited the church on Wednesday, there was no sign of construction work in the building. Around two thirds of the church was occupied by Catholic followers during an evening mass that opened the May devotion month for Holy Mary. The heat was tolerable at that time, as hard rain fell on the city.

Jakarta Tourism Agency head Arie Budhiman said the restoration team overseeing historical buildings and sites at his agency had met with representatives of the Jakarta Cathedral to discuss the idea of an AC system installation.

He said the agency had recommended that the Jakarta Cathedral use floor standing air conditioners and did not approve of the idea of using a central AC system because it would affect the building'€™s walls.

'€œI believe they [the cathedral'€™s staff] will support the principal of preserving this historical building. However, the discussion is not final yet. It is expected to finish this week,'€ he said on Friday.

Michael Christianto, a contractor specializing in AC systems, based in West Jakarta, said a floor standing system would be the best option, which would not damage the construction.

He said one floor standing air conditioner, which was around 60-centimeters to 1-meter wide and 2 meters high, would only require a five centimeter diameter hole that would penetrate the wall for a small pipe.

'€œI don'€™t think it'€™s possible to install a central air conditioning system because it will need a platform,'€ he said.

Urban architect from the University of Indonesia, Gunawan Tjahjono, said if the plan went ahead, those appointed to install the system should be individuals who respected heritage sites.