Friday, August 3, 2012

Preschools feel crunch as void decks shrink


Straits Times: Fri, Aug 03

PRESCHOOL centres located in newer Housing Board estates are facing a space crunch.

Such centres are usually located at the void decks of HDB blocks, but new towns such as Punggol and Sengkang have tower blocks designed with shorter corridors and less floor space on the ground floors.

It is a problem that is being compounded by higher demand for childcare services in these new estates, which house many young newly-weds who are first-time home owners.

The Straits Times spoke to four MPs of new towns, who all acknowledged the space crunch.

Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Gan Thiam Poh said about 70 per cent of the blocks in his ward have void decks that are too

small to justify the cost of building childcare centres.

Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min wrote in his blog last week that the "peculiar designs" of new-generation HDB blocks, coupled with the need for some space at the void decks for residents' use, leave only a few sites suitable for childcare facilities.

Void decks were created in the 1970s to allow residents to interact or hold activities at these areas. But from the mid-1990s, new housing estates consisted of point- or tower-block designs as residents preferred more privacy, an HDB spokesman said.

There is usually more void-deck space in older estates because of the slab or rectangular block configuration.

This space crunch is expected to intensify with 200 more preschool centres slated to be built in the next five years.

Most of them will be in estates such as Woodlands and Bukit Panjang, where many young families are setting up homes.

Mr Teo Ser Luck, an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, noted that the younger profile of residents in his constituency means that they are now at a stage where they are raising families.

"They need childcare services and more void decks that are of a suitable shape or size," he said.

Dr Lam said he has raised the issue with the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) and the HDB.

The result, he said, is that newer HDB developments in Sengkang West will have more blocks with pre-designated sites in void decks for building childcare centres and kindergartens.

The HDB will also work with MCYS, which oversees childcare centres, to do the same in other towns.

Meanwhile, the MCYS is exploring the use of other spaces, such as community centres and sports complexes, to set up childcare centres.

It has piloted five centres in locations such as vacant spaces on the ground floor of carparks, as seen in two examples in Compassvale, and is working with the HDB to explore alternative spaces.

Mr Gan said he is considering upgrading under-utilised facilities such as hard courts so that they can incorporate childcare centres.

Punggol East MP Michael Palmer said he is studying the idea of having a childcare centre on the open-air top deck of a multi-storey carpark.

Meanwhile, the long waiting lists at existing childcare centres are pushing them to expand.

One of the biggest players, PAP Community Foundation, has about half its 242 kindergartens spread out over several adjoining void decks.

Another big player, NTUC First Campus, has 34 of its 93 centres located close together in multiple locations, largely in Punggol and Sengkang.

My First Skool childcare centre in Anchorvale Road already occupies five bays or units and will expand to seven by next month, spanning four adjacent HDB void decks.

Its principal, Ms Oh Hwei Ting, said: "Some parents like it as their kids get their own exclusive bays with separate facilities. But there are some parents who find it troublesome to fetch their kids from different bays."

  
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