Parents caught off guard by closure of One World school at Suntec, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Parents caught off guard by closure of One World school at Suntec

Several parents of students at One World International School’s (OWIS) Suntec campus were “shocked and disappointed” by the news of its impending closure in June, just three years after it was set up.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, a spokesman for OWIS said on March 26 that it had to relocate its Suntec campus, which was granted permission by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to use the space only till June 2024. It was not given an extension.

OWIS currently has 170 pupils from the ages three to 11 at the Suntec campus. It has two other campuses – Punggol and Nanyang, which is in Jurong West.

The school offers the International Baccalaureate Primary Years and diploma programmes and the Cambridge IGCSE – the equivalent of the O levels.

The school was informed of the temporary arrangement at Suntec, said a URA spokeswoman in response to queries from ST. OWIS had signed a letter of acknowledgement that the use of the convention and exhibition facilities to house the Suntec campus would be from July 1, 2021, to July 1, 2024, she said.

On Aug 29, 2023, OWIS had inquired about renewing the temporary permission, said the URA spokeswoman. However, URA informed OWIS on Oct 5 that the school would not be allowed to continue to use the space.

The spokeswoman said URA initially granted OWIS the three-year temporary permission to use the Suntec premises due to reduced demand for meeting spaces during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as delays in OWIS’ Punggol campus construction.

However, she added, upon reassessment, URA decided not to extend the permission beyond July 1, 2024, as the area is zoned for commercial activities, such as meetings and exhibitions, which needed to resume as planned.

While URA had informed OWIS about the temporary nature of the school space at Suntec, parents expressed surprise at the closure, saying that they were not aware of this arrangement.

A spokesman for the school, however, said on April 2 that the temporary nature of the Suntec campus was communicated to parents during open houses.

Mr Daud Cheema, 32, who currently has a five-year-old daughter enrolled at the campus, said that he was not aware of the temporary arrangement at the time of enrolment, and found out about it only through an e-mail from the school on Feb 9.

The e-mail, as seen by ST, said the school lease for its current space is ending, and OWIS is “exploring alternative locations in downtown Singapore and finalising processes of regulatory approvals from the respective authorities”.

Mr Cheema, a sales manager, said: “The admissions and management should have informed us earlier, it’s their responsibility to disclose such information at the time of admission, (so we can) avoid having to find another school after six months of enrolment at the current campus.”

Other parents, who spoke to ST on condition of anonymity, said they had told the school at the point of admission that a key reason for enrolling their children at its Suntec campus was that it was located in the Central Business District.

A 52-year-old co-founder of a start-up, who currently has a six-year-old son studying at the campus, said: “Actually, we had asked several times during the application process as well as once we were accepted, and admissions had always told us not to worry – that they had a back-up plan to move campus if the lease at Suntec was not renewed.” 

In the e-mail sent to parents announcing the closure, the school said “a new home for OWIS Suntec will not be available at present”, and added that parents can consider transferring their children to one of OWIS’ other two campuses.

The school said there will be a “special scheme” to support affected families, with details to be shared later. 

When deciding whether to convert premises for use as foreign system schools, URA reviews applications based on factors such as the site’s intended use, its compatibility with nearby land uses, noise and traffic impact, and feedback from government agencies, the URA spokeswoman said.

Parents told ST that they were aware of the option to transfer, but were hesitant due to the cost of re-applying to the Nanyang and Punggol campuses, which includes application fees of $1,168. OWIS said all application fees will be waived for current pupils at the Suntec campus who are transferring to any of the other campuses.

OWIS’ website indicates that the school fees range from $19,881 to $22,857 a year for the Nanyang campus, $21,057 to $24,633 at the Suntec campus, and $24,382 to $27,357 for the Punggol branch.

The OWIS spokesman said parents who choose to transfer to the Nanyang campus will pay lower fees than at Suntec, while those who move to Punggol will receive subsidies of $650 or $2500, depending on the grade of the pupil.

The spokesman said the school is “actively looking” for another space within the CBD to relocate to, and pupils can transfer back to that campus once a location is found. 

“Our main priority is to provide flexibility and support to the parents,” the spokesman said, adding that more than 25 parents have reached out to the school to discuss transferring to the other campuses. 

The school will continue supporting parents by hosting visits to the other campuses, as well as meeting them to discuss their concerns, he said.

The 52-year-old start-up co-founder said his biggest concern, however, was the “disruption and emotional adjustment” for his son, who had just settled in at the new school. 

“Our son is worried and doesn’t want to leave for good reasons – the teachers, friends and the environment have been great.”

He added that he will likely look for other international schools in the central area.

Another parent, a 43-year-old IT manager, said she is exploring other international school options for her son but is concerned as there may be wait lists.

The OWIS spokesman said the ability to obtain the lease for the Suntec campus was “beyond the school’s control”, and the school will do its best to provide parents and their children with a “seamless transition”.