SINGAPORE: In response to a petition to preserve the Maris Stella High School (MSHS) gate, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) said on Saturday (May 15) that the gate cannot be preserved but will be rebuilt within the school compound.
The school gate, built in 1997, is along Mount Vernon Road, which needs to be widened for residents of the upcoming homes in Bidadari estate and to improve traffic flow, said HDB.
"To do this, we need to acquire part of the driveway into MSHS’s compound and remove the gate from its current location," said HDB in a statement on Facebook on Saturday.
When school alumni, students and their parents heard about this last week, many were dismayed. Mr Harold Yeo, whose son attends the school, started a petition to preserve the gate.
More than 5,000 people have signed Mr Yeo's petition as of Saturday noon.
Maris Stella High School was founded in 1958 and moved to its current Mount Vernon site in 1966. The Catholic boys' school is known for its strong bilingual programme and counts among its alumni Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Senior Minister of State for Manpower and for Health Koh Poh Koon.
One old boy, who went to the school from pre-school to Secondary 4, told CNA that he hopes the gate can be retained.
"It's so beautifully done with its Oriental design, it's really a pity to take it down. There should be some physical aspect to remember our history by," said Mr Jeremiah Tan, whose two sons also attended Maris Stella.
HDB said it had started discussing the matter with the school since August 2018, and various options were explored.
One option was to relocate the existing gate to a suitable site within the school, but consultants "assessed that this was not technically feasible", and the structure could be damaged during the relocation.
"Instead, HDB, the school owners and Marist Brothers agreed that a new arch gate would be built within the school compound," said HDB. "The new gate would incorporate as much of the elements of the existing gate as possible, including the distinctive blue tiles on the arch roof."
The Marist Brothers is a religious order that founded and runs the school.
HDB said that the school’s alumni association has also offered its assistance.
"They will develop a digital replica of the design of the existing gate, to make it easier to construct a new gate that resembles the existing one," it said.
"We will continue to work with the school and the alumni association on the design and construction of the new gate within the school compound.
"We are also studying if other physical elements, such as the signage of the school on the existing arch gate, can be retained along with the distinctive blue tiles in the final design of the new rebuilt gate."
The existing gate will not be removed until the new gate is constructed, estimated in end-2021, HDB added.
When contacted by CNA, Mr Yeo said: "Yes, that is what we are hoping for."
Mr Tan Kiat How, the Minister of State for Communications and Information, and for National Development, said HDB is "very mindful" of what the gate means to the school and its students.
"Even though the gate was only installed in 1997, it has since become an endearing emblem of the school that the boys are proud of," he wrote.
He added that they spoke to Maris Stella alumni president Chris Lee on Friday who shared with them the views of the students and alumni.
"The new Maris Stella gate will retain its original look and retrofitted with key portions of the old gate," he said on Facebook.
"HDB intends to incorporate as much of the old gate into the new, such as the iconic blue tiles and possibly the plaque that carries the school’s name."