Parents seek refunds from international school over delay in new campus construction, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Parents seek refunds from international school over delay in new campus construction

Some parents of students of an international school are demanding refunds for a $6,000 building fee, as the school’s Punggol campus was not ready as expected.

The One World International School’s (OWIS) Punggol campus was slated to be operational by August 2023, the start of the school’s academic year, parents said. But their children had to share a campus with a school next door for seven months until March 2024. 

OWIS Punggol, which has around 300 students across pre-school, primary school and secondary school levels, is located at 27 Punggol Field Walk. Its neighbouring school is Global Indian International School (GIIS). 

Mr Siddharth Bolurker, 42, told The Straits Times that he transferred his 12-year-old daughter from the OWIS campus in Nanyang to the one in Punggol as it is nearer his house. 

He paid nearly $25,000 for a year’s worth of school fees, including the building fee. 

However, from August 2023 to March 2024, his daughter and other students were housed at GIIS. They shared the campus – including classrooms, canteen and play spaces – with GIIS students.

Mr Bolurker, a solutions engineer, said: “One of the main concerns while enrolling in the Punggol campus was whether it would be ready in time, because we saw that work was still ongoing.

“But when we asked the staff at the open house, they explicitly said not to worry and the new campus would be operational when school starts.”

OWIS has two other campuses – Nanyang, which is in Jurong West, and Suntec, which will be closing in June 2024.

OWIS was acquired by Global Schools Foundation, a non-profit organisation, in 2015.

The Nanyang campus opened in 2018, followed by the Suntec campus in 2021, and the Punggol Digital campus in 2023.

OWIS Punggol is able to hold up to 1,500 students, according to its website.

In response to queries from ST, a spokesman for OWIS said its Punggol Digital Campus has been “operational since August 2023 in the shared premises as per approval received from all regulatory authorities”. The school did not specify what these shared premises were.

He added that parents were given a campus tour of the shared premises and “briefed well in advance” before admissions. 

“The same information was communicated during open houses, counselling sessions and one-on-one interactions with the OWIS staff,” he said.

The campus was granted its temporary occupation permit (TOP) only in February, said the spokesman, adding that this was shared with the parents.

In a statement on its website, OWIS said on March 15 that it had received approval from the Committee for Private Education, and that its students could attend classes at the new facility from March 18.  

The TOP, issued by the Building and Construction Authority, is a permit that allows residents to reside in a development that is habitable but incomplete.

One parent, a 45-year-old sustainability building design professional, said he was told by school representatives and principal Angela Henderson via two Zoom calls and one in-person meeting that his 12-year-old son would be able to attend the school at its new premises from August 2023. 

He said the school initially promised a fully functional campus, and that the opening was postponed multiple times, eventually opening in April after several delays.

Even though students moved to the new campus on March 15, he added that he felt the move was rushed and many facilities were not ready for use.

He was one of several parents who expressed concern about the new campus, noting that facilities like computer and science labs were incomplete, some toilets were inaccessible, and cleanliness was compromised by construction debris.

One parent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it looked like the school had “prepared the building in a hurry to start”. 

OWIS did not respond to ST’s queries about the condition of the school’s amenities. 

Prior to the move, a group of 70 parents e-mailed the school on Feb 21 asking for a refund of the building fee, expressing concern about the delay of the new campus, and dissatisfaction with the compensation offered.

The e-mail, which was seen by ST, said the school had offered summer school and extracurricular activities as a form of compensation for the building fee. In response, parents said they were “not convinced nor interested”, and “do not believe these offerings justify the fees charged”.

“Students are relegated to playing in the bus bay due to a lack of proper sports facilities, with no competitive sports activities held against other schools as initially promised,” the e-mail added.

OWIS did not respond to queries about whether parents will be receiving other forms of compensation. 

A parent, who requested to remain anonymous, said co-curricular activities were limited to football, cricket and badminton, and often could not be conducted due to events at GIIS.

The 38-year-old mother of two sons aged eight and 10 said that as at April, the sports field at the new campus is still under construction.

She added: “The management does not understand the significance of losing a year’s worth of valuable opportunities for physical activity during adolescence. The students felt very marginalised while borrowing the facilities from GIIS.”

The OWIS spokesman said: “Feedback or concerns received from these communications were respectively responded to, and the parent community was very appreciative of the facilities and infrastructure of the campus, and the proactive lines of communication from the OWIS team.” 

He added that the school followed all procedures prescribed by the regulatory authorities to run. 

But parents are frustrated and lack confidence in the school’s management, said Mr Oleg Prosvetov, 42, a sales engineering manager with an eight-year-old daughter in the school.

“We don’t want to switch schools as it is quite disruptive for our daughter, but we do plan to go to the Small Claims Tribunals,” he said. 

The parent who is a sustainable building design professional and another parent said they will be moving their children to other schools. Others are hoping for a refund of their building fees and for the new campus to be fully operational as soon as possible.