Over 150 Parents Pressure MOE, LTA and the Gahmen to Force the Building of Elite IPJC

Posted on Jul 19 2015 - 11:27am by Redwire Singapore

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Banding together and united by a common sense of frustration and anxiety, 156 parents have penned a  letter to the Ministry of Education, Land Transport Authority and MPs for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, calling for work to begin immediately on the Integrated Programme Junior College.

The parents say that they were sold on the idea of a junior college in the Bishan vicinity to admit IP students from Catholic High School, CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School and Singapore Chinese Girls’ School  in 2017.

But with two delays so far, the promised junior college campus will only be ready by 2020, following the announcement that more time is needed to include the building of the new Cross-Island train line.

In the meantime, lessons will be conducted from a school at a holding site.

But parents having none of that.

They say that the reasons offered for the JC delay are “flimsy and inadequate.”

They have demanded that the government deliver on what it has “promised”, quoting from Singapore’s late first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew:

“Under-promise and over-deliver. Deliver what you promise and more”.

They have even proposed that the government work around the junior college if they want to build the train line, to minimise disruption to the school.

This is the letter signed by the 156 parents:

TRUTH BEHIND DELAY OF THE NEW GOVERNMENT INTEGRATED PROGRAMME JUNIOR COLLEGE
(IPJC)

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this letter.

As this matter has escalated into a multi-agency issue, we deem it necessary
to highlight it to your various Ministries. A total of 156 parents have
signed this letter.

BACKGROUND

On 1 Sep 2010, MOE issued a press release announcing the set-up of a new
Government JC to admit IP students from Catholic High School, CHIJ St
Nicholas Girls’ School and Singapore Chinese Girls’ School when they
reach Year 5 in 2017.

In 2012, students in Primary 6 who attended DSA talks were sold the value
proposition for this new IP Programme (with no track record yet) which
included a conducive new JC campus “to be located in the Bishan
vicinity”. For subsequent batches, the location was specified to be
“located along Sin Ming Avenue, near the junction of Marymount Road”
(refer page I-36 of Choosing Your Secondary Schools for admission to
Secondary One in 2014 and page I-36 of Choosing Your Secondary Schools for
admission to Secondary One in 2015 booklets).

NEW LTA REQUIREMENT – EXPLANATION OR EXCUSE?

There have been two delays to the completion of the promised JC campus. This
will eventually lead to the JC being ready for the first batch of students
only in 2020. This will be 10 long years after the JC was announced. We think
that it is ridiculous that it would take 10 years to build a school in
Singapore. This delay will affect around 1300 students and their families.

The first was a delay from 2017 to 2018. This resulted in the need for a
holding site for the first batch of IP students. Up to now, we still do not
know the reason for this initial delay.

Then on 13 April 2015, we had another rude shock upon learning that there
would be another delay of a year and a half to end 2019 due to “a new LTA
requirement”. Even the new JC Principal, Mrs Wong Mei Heng and the three
secondary school principals were caught unawares.

Parents pushed for a dialogue and after repeated emails, letters and calls,
and after much delay, the MOE finally called for a Q&A session on 25 May
2015. At this session, it was finally revealed that the delay was due to the
Cross-Island Line (CRL) construction. It is strange that it took a total of 6
weeks for such a simple explanation to be made known. At every level, there
seems to be an unwillingness to be transparent.

In writing to you, we would like to highlight that this new argument does not
hold water and is totally unacceptable, whether one views it from a planning
perspective or from a technical engineering aspect. To be blunt, it has been
used as a weak justification for the easy and convenient way out.

A. PLANNING – IS IT DEFINITIVE?

According to what we have been told, the CRL cuts across a larger part of the
site reserved for the new JC campus. As such, it is vital to ask if the CRL
would inevitably affect the new IPJC structural foundation.

The fact is, the CRL is currently undergoing detailed engineering and
environmental impact assessment (EIA) study, with expected completion only in
2016 (see references).

Thereafter, the Government would assess the most effective CRL alignment
(which passes through the rich biodiversity in Central Water Catchment), and
probably conduct public discourse on some scale before it proceeds to make
annual budgetary provisions for its construction according to the planned
implementation phasing of the 50km rail line.

As the situation stands now, in terms of master planning, there is some scope
for flexibility that LTA can exercise by requesting the engineering
consultant to entirely avoid the new IPJC site foundations. The overall
impact of such a requirement being imposed on LTA’s engineering consultancy
work is unlikely to affect the overall construction costs of CRL
significantly, because construction costs are more tightly correlated to the
prevailing inflation rate and resource contracting costs in the future.

Furthermore, the implementation phasing of the 50km CRL is subject to future
economic developments such as the KL-SG high-speed rail development leading
into Jurong, and the (comparatively) slower population growth rate which
underpins the long term rail network expansion.

It is therefore unreasonable and premature for LTA to assume a definitive
alignment and implementation timeline and ignore the immediate adverse
societal impact when conducting national planning in its ivory tower. It is a
long time till 2030 and there are several implementation phasing permutations
for CRL. There are, without doubt, many uncertainties and unforeseen
circumstances ahead for the CRL before it is completed by 2030.

Perhaps due to deliberate ignorance or incompetency of some agencies, the
impact on the society, students and parents due to LTA’s definitive
positioning, has been totally disregarded.

The authorities should look beyond the short-term financial benefits or the
most convenient avenue. Priceless intangibles such as the loss of public
confidence in the government, the “lost identity” by at least 3 cohorts
of students who would not have the chance to step into their promised new
campus and the failure by educators to impart values of honesty, integrity
and transparency to the next generation must not be ignored. Most of all, by
so easily discarding and reneging on the promise of the new JC, the relevant
agencies are setting a dangerous precedent in how a responsible Government
should act.

At this juncture, we want to raise a poignant declaration made by MOE DS Mr
Lim Boon Wee on 25 May 2015 to the approximately 400 parents present, that
“a new school site regardless of where the location will certainly take 5
years to build” and therefore there would be no way for the JC building to
be completed on time. We want to remind Mr Lim that in this modern society,
more complex megastructures such as the Resort World Sentosa (RWS) and the
Marina Bay Sands (MBS) were completed in 3 years, as have been countless
high-rise HDB blocks, shopping malls and condominiums. Does MOE with its
decades of school building experience, really require 7, 8 even 10 years to
construct a school which it had already planned for back in 2012 or even
prior? If this is true, it will be a total letdown on the efficiency of the
Singapore Government.

Suppose for a moment we agree with Mr Lim that the JC building would really
take 5 years to build, with the announcement in 2012 that the JC building
would be ready in 2017, why didn’t the authorities commence the building
programme immediately back then? There was even a public notice issued on 22
October 2013 by the current tenants of the site, Nature Park Pte Ltd, that it
would continue its golf driving range operations till end-2015. This would
suggest that in 2013 there was already the secret intent to complete the JC
only in 2020!!! In the meantime, parents were told otherwise in annual DSA
recruitment talks and publications!!!

Is this the level of competency in planning and execution that we expect from
our public service agencies, particularly MOE and LTA? The inconsistencies,
lack of transparency and most of all the poor excuses offered are in total
contrast to our belief and vision of our honest, efficient and competent
Nation.

B. ENGINEERING – IS IT INSURMOUNTABLE?

A secondary reason that was offered to explain the delay of the building of
the JC was that the area suffers from soft soil conditions and would require
more time for the preparation work. With regards to these “soft soil
conditions”, please let it be known that soft soil condition is actually
quite common in Singapore and is nothing new in the Bishan area. Many high
rise buildings have been built in the immediate vicinity. When constructing a
building on soft layers, pile foundations are normally adopted. These piles
can penetrate through soft layers of soil, extending deeper to reach harder
layers to support the building. Most of the new buildings in Singapore are
supported by these pile foundations.

It would not be an issue for the CRL tunnel to bore near or underneath the
new JC site at Marymount junction if the new JC buildings are designed for
it. Even if both the east-bound and west-bound bored tunnels run underneath
the new JC site, the pile foundation can be arranged in such a way to create
a 12 to 15-metre corridor for vertically stacked bore tunnels to comfortably
pass through the site with minimal disturbances. Any potential re-design, if
any, should take no more than 6 months and certainly not a drastic re-design
as claimed by MOE officials during the dialogue. Not forgetting, the tunnels
may potentially skirt the new JC site altogether or dive deeper to avoid
structural foundations of the JC and surrounding site. We also note that the
CRL may indeed have to dive deeper than normal due to the underground section
of the North-South Expressway at the section of Marymount Road adjacent to
the site.

NEXT STEPS

We wish to work with the agencies and we hope they will reciprocate by
pushing for the promise to be delivered. It is perhaps timely to bring up the
reminder of our founding PM Mr Lee Kuan Yew – “Under-promise and
over-deliver. Deliver what you promise and more”. This is especially true
in this situation as most of us parents committed our children to six years
of this programme based on the promise given us by the MOE.

Just in case it is not already clear to the stakeholder agencies, we
summarize a few of the possible solutions that can be explored expeditiously
if the relevant parties intend to uphold the Government’s promise to
deliver the new IPJC by 2017.

Keeping To Government’s Promise – What Can Be Done, Practically

1a.    LTA to instruct the consultant to
-skirt around
-dive deeper
-stack tunnels

and avoid and/or minimize impact to IPJC structural foundations

Stakeholders: MOE, MOT (LTA), MND (URA)

1b.    MOE to shift IPJC permanent site slightly to avoid tunnels, and/or
design-in redundancy for (stacked) tunnel boring

Stakeholders: MOE, MOT (LTA), MND (URA)

2.    Alternatively, use another piece of land in the vicinity to immediately
build the new JC building.

Stakeholders: MOE, MND (URA), Ms Grace Fu to manage cross-agency coordination
red-tapes

SUMMARY

It should be crystal clear to us all that the so-called “reasons” for the
delay of the new IPJC are not technical. It is due to poor planning and poor
coordination. It is obvious that government agencies are still working in
silos – the very reason why Ms Grace Fu has been given a new role to
“bridge these inter-agency boundaries  and serve the public in an
integrated way”.  The lack of ownership and professionalism, poor
inter-agency planning and communication, and the appalling dis-connect with
“the ground” as demonstrated by the senior government officials during
the dialogue at MOE on 25 May 2015 are deeply disturbing to watch, and will
only continue to fan the public angst. We now also know why it took so long
to provide parents with information on the “new LTA requirement”. It was
a downright lame excuse!

All this then begs the question, what is the REAL reason for the delay? Is
there one?

We are of the view that the reasons offered for the JC delay are flimsy and
inadequate. This is not a matter to be glossed over nor one to be swept under
the carpet. Let us all deal with it face on. Within these explanations lies
the credibility and trust of the various arms of the Government. Many
hundreds of students and their parents are awaiting a decent solution to this
unfortunate matter.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Parents from
Catholic High School
CHIJ St. Nicholas Girls’ School
Singapore Chinese Girls’ School

cc
GPC for Education :
Mr Lim Biow Chuan
Mr Inderjit Singh
Mr Hri Kumar
Mr Baey Yam Keng
Mr Ang Wei Neng
Dr Intan Azura Mohktar
Ms Low Yen Ling
Ms Irene Ng
Mr Edwin Tong
Mr Zainuddin Nordin

Er Dr Lee Bee Wah

1 Comment so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Ministry of Errors July 19, 2015 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    Bishan Park is a fairly large park! I am sure an area of the park can be carved out to build a temporary holding school so that these students can commence their studies immediately.

    The holding school can be built in similar fashion like the business building next to the Newton MRT Station.

    If there is a will there is a way! The Ministry of Errors should stop this habit of being opaque!

    After all, Singapore is so rich what is a couple of millions for a holding school which can later be turn into a restaurant or eatery when the permanent building is ready in 10 years’ time!

    Most important is the training of our young! They can only go to school once at this age!

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