Happenings

Final steps of arduous journey from Mt Sophia to UBT

Feb 2002    
The new John Wesley Centre at Upper Bukit Timah Road: Attractive, spacious and functional. --Trinity Theological College picture.
The courtyard in St Francis Methodist School. -- MM picture.

ON SATURDAY Feb 2, the new John Wesley Centre at Upper Bukit Timah Road, together with the Methodist School of Music (MSM) and St Francis Methodist School (SFMS), is to be dedicated by Bishop Dr Robert Solomon. Trinity Theological College (TTC) will hold its official opening on March 16.

These events represent the final steps in an arduous journey of many months of anxious, prayerful reflection and hard work which began in March 1996 when the Methodist property at Mt Sophia was gazetted for acquisition by the Government.

The sites in question at Mt Sophia comprised TTC, John Wesley Centre and the WSCS Centre and were acquired because of announced plans for the extension of the MRT line.

Initially, the Methodist community was dismayed because valuable prime land that had been acquired by farsighted missionaries more than a century ago, and had become part of the Methodist heritage, was lost for good.

Against this unscripted turn of events, financial compensation, when it was eventually finalised, enabled The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) to embark on a number of related projects which required substantial funding.

Perhaps the most pressing problem was to find a replacement site for TTC, MSM, SFMS, as well as the WSCS Centre. After due negotiation, land was acquired from the Salvation Army for $23.4 million, while the tender price of the new buildings that were completed in July 2001 came to $43.25 million. These two sums account for $66.65 million – the major part of the total compensation of $92 million.

It seemed providential that the Salvation Army was considering hiving off a part of its property at Upper Bukit Timah in order to complete other projects.

After a prolonged period of indecision, it was finally agreed that the MCS would take over 1.8 ha of elevated land that is an extension of Bukit Timah Hill. It is located approximately next to the Bukit Panjang Chinese Methodist Church and is also accessible from Jalan Asas behind the Rail Mall.

The environment seemed bucolic, away from the Singapore business district, but it also proved a source of anxiety for the builders who had to grapple with some very large boulders. These had to be excavated, and the largest blasted into conveniently smaller pieces for disposal before the foundations could be laid.

Other problems included trying to construct three building complexes which varied up to 15 metres in elevation and to enable them to be reasonably accessible. These and other unforeseen problems delayed the completion of the construction by almost three months.

Well-designed JWC has excellent facilities

Against this, we can be happy that RSP Architects, appointed by the MCS, submitted an attractive and creative plan. With Trinity Theological College occupying the upper level, and with the two sister blocks side by side on the lower level, separated by a plaza and a pedestrian walkway, the college chapel, which occupies pride of place with its well-known “ren” shaped roof, can be clearly seen from the main road.

The eye is drawn up through an ornamental fountain and a water-course until it rests on the highest point, the chapel roof, especially beautiful at night when the campus is illuminated.

Internally, the facilities are spacious and purposeful. This is apparent in the TTC and St Francis Methodist School buildings, as well as in the building that houses the Methodist School of Music and the Recital Hall, which now holds the Bukit Panjang Chinese Methodist Church worship services in English. The hall has been named The Sanctuary.

Apart from the well thought-out design, there are facilities for IT video-conferencing, making available an important educational tool as well as giving access to the global community. Methodists and other well-wishers may wish to visit the new John Wesley Centre to become acquainted with the institutions it serves.

What became of the rest of the compensation money? One disbursement of $4.3 million was made to the WSCS for its Centre, as new plans for its work developed in the meantime; another was the acquisition of 5,627.5 sq metres of land on a 999-year leasehold at nearby Cashew Road costing $14.5 million (with the avowed intention of supporting the work at John Wesley Centre); and finally, a donation of $5 million to the Methodist Schools’ Foundation as a commitment to Methodist education.

Finally, it is also relevant to state that, with other funds, the MCS was the lead partner in the Christian Columbarium project (The Garden of Remembrance) costing $16 million, which will gradually be realised when the niches are taken up in the next two decades.

Against this will be the need to be ready for the renewal of the leasehold title in 44 years.

ATTRACTIVE AND CREATIVE

RSP Architects, appointed by the MCS, submitted an attractive and creative plan. With Trinity Theological College occupying the upper level, and with the two sister blocks side by side on the lower level, separated by a plaza and a pedestrian walkway, the college chapel, which occupies pride of place with its well-known “ren” shaped roof, can be clearly seen from the main road. The eye is drawn up through an ornamental fountain and a water-course until it rests on the highest point, the chapel roof, especially beautiful at night when the campus is illuminated.’


Earnest Lau is the Associate Editor of Methodist Message.

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