MOE mulling over Bishan interim JC site

First it was Bishan, then Mount Sinai.

Now Bishan is back on the cards to provide an interim campus for students from Catholic High, CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' and Singapore Chinese Girls' schools affected by the delay in the building of a new junior college (JC) that was supposed to take them in.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said last night, a day after a testy dialogue with more than 300 affected parents and students, that it is reconsidering having a holding site nearer to Bishan.

Parents had complained at the dialogue that the former Raffles Junior College (RJC) campus in Mount Sinai, which was chosen after the original interim site in Bishan fell through, was too far away.

"Hence, we are reviewing options for holding sites that we had previously considered, that are closer to the Bishan area (including the former ITE Ang Mo Kio)," said a spokesman for MOE.

The spokesman added that parents will be updated within a few weeks.

The new JC, which will start taking in its first batch of students in 2017, is being set up to accommodate mostly Integrated Programme (IP) students graduating from the three secondary schools.

The original plan was for it to operate at a holding site in Bishan Street 14 for 11/2 years, before moving to its permanent campus at the junction of Sin Ming Avenue and Marymount Road in mid- 2018. But parents were told last month that the new campus would be ready only at the end of 2019.

They were also told that the Bishan holding site was no longer available because the current occupiers, St Joseph's Institution, would not be able to move out in time as it is also facing delays in the renovation of its Malcolm Road campus.

MOE chose Mount Sinai as the old RJC site is big enough to accommodate a cohort of JC students and already has key facilities such as lecture theatres and science labs. The ministry also promised to revamp the campus.

But emotions still ran high at Monday night's 21/2-hour dialogue at MOE's headquarters in Buona Vista. Parents voiced their unhappiness over the delay to the new permanent campus, and complained that the Mount Sinai site was too far away from Marymount. They made a ruckus when MOE representatives suggested providing a bus service or pushing back the start of the school day.

Present at the dialogue were principals of the three secondary schools and the new JC, as well as Mr Lim Boon Wee, deputy secretary of MOE's services wing, Mr Wong Kang Jet, director of MOE's finance and development division, Ms Lim Huay Chih, director of MOE's school planning and placement division, and Ms Lina Lim, group director of the Land Transport Authority's policy and planning group.

Parents pressed MOE to build the new JC on time, or look for an alternative site to build it.

Mr Lim said even if the ministry were to look for another site, "it won't be any faster than 2019... It will definitely be even later than 2019".

At the dialogue, it was explained that the delay to the new campus was due to the Cross Island MRT Line, which will run beneath the site.

Several parents asked MOE to allow their children to transfer to other JCs offering the IP. An MOE officer replied that such requests depended on vacancies and availability. But an agitated parent said: "MOE has broken its promise of a new JC... If there is a need for us to change (schools), MOE must guarantee (our children) a place."

When told that MOE was reconsidering choosing a site in Bishan to serve as the holding JC, parents The Straits Times spoke to were still not placated.

Madam Ng Kam Fong, whose daughter is in CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School, said: "MOE had earlier said ITE Ang Mo Kio was too small, and now they are considering moving the interim site there."

The 39-year-old property agent, who may consider transferring her daughter to other JCs, added: "I just want the new JC to be delivered on time. I don't want my daughter to spend her entire two years in JC in a holding site."

This article was first published on May 27, 2015.
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