Metro work affects 121-year-old Arcot Lutheran Church on Prakasam Salai; officials blame congestion in the area

Two days after cracks developed on the 152-year-old CSI Wesley Tamil Aalayam in Broadway due to Metro Rail tunnelling work, two fresh cracks developed on another heritage building — the 121-year-old Arcot Lutheran Church on Prakasam Salai in Broadway.

Officials of Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) said the cracks developed on the walls inside the church around 8.30 a.m. on Monday. The tunnel boring machine (TBM) was then drilling underneath the building as part of the Metro Rail tunnelling work between Mannady and Madras High Court. “Ever since the incident at the CSI Wesley Tamil Aalayam on Saturday, I was constantly inspecting the building. So, when I noticed the cracks near the pews for the women, I immediately informed the authorities. Another crack developed a bit later,” said S. Balasundaram (50), who has been working in the church for the last 18 years. Subsequently, CMRL officials inspected the building, said church authorities.

Officials added that the building already had some cracks. “The two cracks that emerged due to Metro Rail work are 0.2-0.3 mm wide. The area is highly congested and we expected cracks to occur. During the tunnelling work on the Washermenpet-Mannady stretch, 20-25 of the 750 structures we bored beneath developed cracks. We can only repair them,” said an official. They maintained that it would be difficult to drill in the area without cracks developing. There are 12 heritage buildings, including churches, on Prakasam Salai and some more of them may develop cracks, said CMRL officials

The Arcot Lutheran Church, constructed in 1892, has been classified as ‘Grade 2A’ heritage structure by the Justice E. Padmanabhan Committee report that lists the heritage buildings in the city.

Delhi Metro Rail did not encounter such problems primarily because the soil was quite rocky, whereas Chennai’s soil composition is both rocky and sandy. Excavation in these conditions is very challenging, he added. Once the TBM passes through the stretch under the Arcot Lutheran church on Monday night, CMRL will take a call on when it will be repaired and how long it will take, he said.

Experts inspect CSI Wesley Tamil Aalayam

Meanwhile, the CSI Wesley Tamil Aalayam which sported 5-6 cracks on Saturday was inspected by experts from IIT Madras along with CMRL officials.

Arun Menon, a civil engineering department faculty at IIT Madras, who inspected the church on behalf of CMRL, said, “We were unable to completely inspect the church. So, we cannot make a conclusion right away. It may take us another three days to present a report on the extent and nature of the damage and what can be done to restore the building.”

He said that as the tunnelling work was being carried out at a shallow depth, more such cracks could appear on ancient buildings.

CSI Wesley Tamil Aalayam authorities said that a small amount of water had oozed out from the flooring. “We think this happened because of the cracks from the tunnelling work,” said R. Yesuraj, a member of the church. Sources said that repair work on the church may be completed by Sunday.

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