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Previously Untold Stories About DLSL’s St. La Salle Building

Graduates of De La Salle Lipa from the late nineties to the present naturally know that there is this four-story building right next to the J.P. Laurel National Highway that is called the St. La Salle Building. What few, if at all, know are the stories about the building that I am about to tell.

First of all, it was not always there. The building was erected over land where what we used to call the 100-Wing stood. In fact, when I was a senior student in high school back in school year 1974-75, our homeroom was at the far end of the building near what is now called the Lorenzo Ruiz Road.

Our room was called R-105. In those days, the seniors were assigned the colour red. The blue that was still used till my last year in the school was not introduced until the mid-eighties by then-Principal Br. Jaime Dalumpines.

Getting back to the wing, this was one of the three original structures that were built when the Brothers first opened the school way back in 1962. More on this matter later.

It was easy enough for those who occupied the clusters to remember their room numbers; but not so for those who only had occasional business there. Giving directions to visitors on, say, card-giving day was always, needless to say, a royal pain.
The St. La Salle Building was the crowning glory of the grand development plan that the late-President Br. Rafael Donato had undertaken since 1996. It was this development plan that transformed the campus to what those in the school more or less enjoy in the present day.

The building was constructed in phases or what Br. Rafael insisted we called ‘clusters.’ Each cluster was a four story building with four classrooms on each floor. Every cluster was named after a Lasallian saint and was linked to the next one by bridges on every floor.

When all the clusters were completed, Br. Rafael, as with the previous buildings constructed under his administration, placed my office in charge of the inauguration ceremonies.

He wanted us to try and see if we could get then-President Joseph Estrada to come and be the guest of honor. Malacañang sent its regrets but also said that Br. Andrew Gonzales, then Secretary of the Department of Education, would be coming to represent the President of the Republic.

An excerpt from Br. Andrew’s speech still reverberates inside my head from time to time to this very day: “You have done the easy part (constructing buildings, he meant). Now, you must all buckle down to the hard work of building human infrastructures and quality programs.”

Or something to that effect… It sounded a lot as though Br. Andrew, who arguably can be credited with laying the groundwork for what DLSU-Manila has become in the present day, was throwing down the gauntlet for all of us working in Lipa.

And particularly for Br. Rafael who, we heard it whispered, did not always see eye to eye with the then-Secretary of Education…

Back to the new building, there were those among us who rather felt that it was constructed a tad too close to the road. Br. Rafael always had his reasons – some seemed workable; others outlandish. It took a brave man, however, to argue him down when he was on battle stations.

When plans for the building were first broached to us members of his President’s Council, I tried in vain to argue a case for the preservation on historical grounds of the original building on which the St. La Salle would be built.

I did not stand a chance. “Sentimentality,” he ‘persuaded’ me, “cannot stand in the way of progress.”

Yes Brother.

The St. La Salle was built close to the road, he insisted, as something of a statement to the public – an imposing structure that could not fail to capture the attention of those driving along to and from the city proper.

Hearing it from him, it made marketing sense. There was, of course, the little matter of practicality. The classrooms being right next to the road also meant that the noise generated by passing vehicles would also be invasive to those occupying the classrooms.

The noise from outside was not the only concern. Younger readers will be interested to know that when the clusters were first built, there were no walls along the corridors to separate one classroom from the other. In lieu of walls, lockers were lined outside each room.

These ‘open’ classrooms, Br. Rafael explained, were so made to strengthen the feeling of community. The concept was lovely to ponder; but then again, there was the matter of practicality. Such an idea would have worked a) in a school for the deaf and the mute; b) if the students were all candidates for sainthood; and c) if it was not forbidden to tape students’ mouths during classes.

Br. Rafael did not take kindly to criticism, particularly of one of his pet projects. Those who occupied the building, however, knew that the noise coming from the road coupled with the noise coming from within guaranteed not learning at the end of each day but, instead, pounding headaches.

In one particularly emotional President’s Council meeting, I summoned the courage to speak up to substantiate all the complaints that were coming from teachers and students alike. I was teaching my last class of high school seniors and could speak first-hand about what it was really like.

Soon after that, a wall was erected next to the building ostensibly to keep out the noise from the road. Even that was as half-assed as solutions went.  First, the wall boxed in the lower floors and obstructed the flow of air. Soon, the complaints were more about the heat than the noise, which had only been marginally muffled.

Of course, the assumption when the wall was built was that the noise from the road would not reach up to the upper floors. Wishful thinking! I taught at the fourth floor and the noise from the road was just as annoying!

The noise problem was only really and finally addressed when airconditioning was installed for all the classrooms in the building and walls along the corridors added to keep noise from within a classroom spilling out to the next.

In the early years of the St. La Salle Building, the system of naming the classrooms was based on the Lasallian saint after whom each cluster was named. Thus, classrooms on the fourth floor of the Mutien Marie cluster were named MM 41-44 and those below them 31-34. And so on down to the ground floor…

It was easy enough for those who occupied the clusters to remember their room numbers; but not so for those who only had occasional business there. Giving directions to visitors on, say, card-giving day was always, needless to say, a royal pain.

During the term of Br. Manuel Pajarillo as President, I was asked to head a Standardization Committee which handled, among others, how rooms were to be named. It was this committee that rationalized the naming of all rooms in all the buildings of the school to the more visitor-friendly system that is still in use in the present day.  Instead of being known as four clusters with names that were difficult to remember, the entire wing was renamed the St. La Salle Building.

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