Space allocated for museum shrinks

Civic group My Community had expected to be given one floor of the former wet market at Block 38, Commonwealth Avenue, for its planned $2 million museum. Instead, the Housing Board offered it just 70 sq m of space, with the rest of the area being planned to house 19 shops.

A planned $2 million museum in Queenstown might be reduced to a smaller heritage corner after the Housing Board allocated less than half the original space for the project.

Now, more than 450 Queenstown residents have signed a civic group petition to appeal for more room to chronicle the estate's 100-year history.

Last August, civic group My Community announced that the museum would have three sections: a permanent history gallery, an activity space for residents, and a library and archival section.

It would house hundreds of artefacts, old maps, photographs and oral history recordings when ready in 2020.

The group had assumed the museum would occupy the entire first floor of the newly conserved wet market at Block 38, Commonwealth Avenue, or 178.5 sq m.

But in October, HDB allocated it just 70 sq m of space, which is slightly smaller than a three-room HDB flat.

The rest of the historic building will be used to house 19 shops as part of the board's plans to rejuvenate the Dawson estate.

One of those who signed the petition is heritage enthusiast Choo Lip Sin, 44, who said it is "very difficult to do justice to Queenstown's rich history" with such a tight space.

A Housing Board spokesman told The Sunday Times that the HDB had initially set aside 35 sq m for a heritage area.

It doubled the space after the Queenstown Heritage Committee asked for an area about the size of a three-room HDB flat, she said.

The Queenstown Heritage Committee has now asked for more space to house the additional artefacts that it has collected, she added.

However, My Community president Kwek Li Yong disputed this.

He said both the committee and his group had not been consulted and did not put in a specific request for 70 sq m of space.

In early January, the group submitted a proposal to justify its request for 178.5 sq m of space.

The team, which includes consultants such as architectural and urban historian Lai Chee Kian, took inspiration from community museums in London and Taiwan for its proposal.

But negotiations seem to be at a stalemate, said Mr Kwek.

The Housing Board spokesman said the Ministry of National Development, HDB, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the National Heritage Board (NHB) "have offered to work with Queenstown Heritage Committee to explore possible options".

Before it became Singapore's first satellite estate, Queenstown was first a plantation and then a cemetery.

Museum organisers hope to display artefacts such as a 1958 Queenstown development map, gates of the old Queenstown Remand Prison and remnants of an old Tanglin Halt KTM train track.

The aim is to pay tribute to the demolished social institutions which used to dot the town, and to residents' stories, said Mr Kwek.

My Community has been championing the estate's history since 2009.

It submitted a paper to the URA in 2013, pushing for the conservation of 18 buildings, one of which was Block 38.

The group's efforts bagged Queenstown the NHB's Heritage Town Award 2014.

Mr Kwek believes more attention should be paid to the estate's roots.

"Why was Block 38 conserved only to be turned primarily into a commercial space? How can you place a price tag on Queenstown's history?" he asked.

Queenstown MP Chia Shi-Lu said he would "really like to see the museum happen" and be constructed within Block 38.

"Any other place, and it might cause a delay in the project, which we have been working on for years now," he said.

Agreeing, Mr Kwek said: "Conserving a building like that is pointless if we chuck our history into a corner."

This article was first published on Mar 1, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.