Project to expand Boys' Home delayed

A new complex in Jurong to house youngsters who have broken the law has been delayed by three years after the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) called for a fresh tender.

The project - due to cost an estimated $40 million - is meant to be an expansion of the Singapore Boys' Home and Singapore Boys' Hostel, and was initially scheduled to be built by August this year.

The MSF first called a tender for the project in 2012, but The Straits Times learnt that it took the unusual move of calling for companies to tender for the project again last month.

As the current tender will be awarded only in June, this means that the complex will be ready only three years later.

The MSF has declined to comment on the issue, citing the ongoing tender, which also calls for the building of a new road to connect Jalan Bahar and Jurong West Street 25 to the complex.

Flanked by the Pan-Island Expressway, Jalan Bahar and Westwood Secondary School, the complex will occupy 20,000 sq m, the size of three football fields.

The existing Singapore Boys' Home and Singapore Boys' Hostel are sited nearby in Jurong West Street 24 and have been in operation since 1999.

They were still up and running when The Straits Times visited the area two weeks ago and there was no construction activity seen at the new site.

Juvenile homes, such as the Singapore Boys' Home and Singapore Girls' Home, are run by the MSF. They house about 300 young people who have committed offences, such as robbery, rioting or molestation, before the age of 16. Some are there because they have been judged to be beyond parental control.

Besides the MSF juvenile homes, there are now 22 other homes for children and young people, mostly run by voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), that provide residential care programmes.

Facilities at the new complex will include four residential blocks, a centre for education, a medical centre, an administration block, and a jogging track and field.

The original tender in 2012 said the MSF aims to provide a wider range of academic, vocational and therapeutic programmes with the improved facilities.

The education centre will teach new skills in areas such as multimedia, hospitality, sports and wellness. The residential blocks will have amenities such as workshops, classrooms, and counselling and multimedia rooms.

Compared to the old Boys' Home, the additional classrooms and laboratories in the new building will allow for a wider range of subjects and academic levels to be taught, as well as enable the troubled youngsters to sit major national examinations.

Plans for the complex were in the pipeline as early as five years ago.

Back in 2011, officers from the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports toured the United States, Canada and England with architects to pick up ideas on designing facilities and programmes.

VWOs that operate other homes for teenagers said they have not hit maximum occupancy yet, so the delay should not have a significant impact on them. The Muhammadiyah Welfare Home at Bedok North, for instance, now has about 60 boys under its charge. The home can take up to 100. Boys' Town can take up to 80 and it now has about 60 boys living under its roof.

Every year, there are about 300 new admissions to the Singapore Boys' Home and Singapore Girls' Home. The total number of juveniles arrested for crimes rose from 1,329 in 2013 to 1,369 in 2014.

Mrs Irene Loi, executive director of Boys' Town, said: "The number of such young people is more manageable now because people nowadays are having fewer children, their stays at the homes tend to be shorter and there is a preference for them to be cared for in the community under probation, instead of within institutions."

This article was first published on January 26, 2016.
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