The Mount Vernon funeral parlours have had their leases extended by two years, easing undertakers' worries that the columbarium complex would be torn down soon, leading to a shortage of funeral halls.
Mount Vernon Sanctuary, whose lease ended on March 14, has been told it can stay until March 2017. It runs six halls there.
Singapore Casket's lease for two halls, Mount Vernon Parlour 1 and 2, ran out last December and has been extended until December next year.
The Upper Aljunied Road complex will eventually be demolished to make way for the upcoming Bidadari housing estate, the authorities have said. But they did not say when this will happen.
The Government also has plans for a new funeral parlour to be built at the current Mount Vernon site but details are also not yet available.
Mount Vernon used to house the Government's main crematorium, but it stopped operations when the Mandai Crematorium opened in 2004.
The ashes of the dead are kept in 21,000 niches at Mount Vernon, including in a nine-storey pagoda, and there are plans to move these to two government-managed columbariums in Choa Chu Kang and Mandai.
In 2010, Mount Vernon Sanctuary's chief executive Ang Zi Qian invested about $700,000 to refurbish the run-down crematorium halls into an award-winning outfit.
He turned the place into a bright and modern facility with air-conditioning, free Wi-Fi and banquet-style tables and chairs for wakes. The six halls can hold between 50 and 200 people, and it is full house on most days. It costs $650 a day to rent the smallest hall.
Mr Ang, who is also chief executive of Ang Chin Moh Casket, said: "We have at least one booking a week now where families choose to wait - some for up to three days after their loved ones die - until one of our halls becomes available."
Now that he has two more years, he said he plans to spend another $300,000 on improvements such as repainting the halls and replacing and repairing the furniture.
Singapore Casket started operating at Mount Vernon in 2009 and its two parlours can hold about 70 to 80 people each. The company also has 10 halls at its Lavender Street building that can seat a total of 600 people.
Undertakers report growing demand to hold wakes at funeral parlours.
Mr Roland Tay, founder of Direct Funeral Services, said this is because more families live in condominiums, which usually do not have facilities to hold wakes.
Mr Venban Govindasamy, assistant operations manager at Trinity Casket, said more families prefer to use a parlour so that they can lock up and go home to rest at night.
There are 23 licensed funeral parlours with embalming services located in Geylang Bahru, Lavender Street, Sin Ming and Toa Payoh Industrial Park, a National Environment Agency spokesman said.
This excludes parlours that do not have embalming services on site, such as church halls.
An Urban Redevelopment Authority spokesman told The Sunday Times that funeral parlours can be located only on specifically approved sites or as ancillary services to columbarium developments.
He added: "There is also the need to study the impact on surrounding users and traffic."
This article was first published on Apr 5, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.