Lease woes leave Tin Hau international school on shaky ground

Parents of 300 students worried that landlords will take away Tin Hau campus and use site for new development project

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 10:15am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 5:34pm

The slow progress in renewing a Tin Hau international school's lease, which will expire in eight months, has caused mounting concern among parents and cast uncertainty over the fate of its 300 primary students.

The parents fear that the land owner – the Construction Association – will reclaim the site of the International Montessori School, knowing that the school has been granted a new campus site in Stanley.

The association’s spokesman was unwilling to comment on whether it would renew the lease.

“We’re in communication on an ongoing basis,” said the school’s co-founder, Karin Ann, adding that talks with the association about the lease – which had been extended in the past – were “in progress”.

While Ann said the school and the association were “continuing to work through the process”, parents said they were concerned because they had not received any reassurances.

“Nobody knows if it can stay [in Tin Hau] or not,” said a woman who has two daughters studying at the school. “If the school has to move, we have to think about either moving home or sending them to another school. But we love the [Tin Hau] school so much. We don’t want to see that happen.”

The parent, who lives in the Mid-Levels, said she e-mailed the school to ask whether it had secured a lease renewal but “had not had any confirmation”.

Damian Coory, whose two children attend the school, believes the Montessori’s co-founders are “trying to sort it out” with the association. He says attempting to move existing pupils from Tin Hau to Stanley would not be a wise option.

“We won that [Stanley] campus for new school places,” Coory said. “And it’s not OK to keep moving kids. ... It’s miles away.”

About 100 students in the Tin Hau campus will move to the new one in Stanley. More children are being recruited for the Stanley site, which opens in February. When it was granted the Stanley site in April, the school said it had 800 children on its waiting list.

The school – established 12 years ago – moved into its current site in 2010. The current lease expires in July.

The Construction Association used to run a school of its own on the site at 62 Tin Hau Temple Road. The association last year announced plans to build a youth hostel on the land, in partnership with the Federation of Youth Groups. However, the Education Bureau later said the site would be retained for educational purposes.

The school’s other co-founder, Anne Sawyer, said the Stanley campus would not replace the one in Tin Hau.

“I don’t think the expectation is that [the new site in Stanley] replaces this. The people and the community in this area value having an international school here,” said Sawyer.

An Education Bureau spokesman said it was “not a party to the tenancy agreement” but was “aware that the school and the association have entered discussion regarding the renewal of tenancy”.

The spokesman said that if the landlords would decide to reclaim and develop the land in the future, they should “ensure early notice and allow sufficient time for the school to make the necessary arrangements for the students and to factor in the relocation of the school in an orderly manner”.

“We have earlier reminded the association that the school is operating ... [and we] will continue to provide necessary facilitation and support to the school in the process,” he said.

Pioneered by Italian educator Maria Montessori more than a century ago, Montessori education is characterised by multi-age classrooms, the absence of grades and tests, and individual and small-group instruction. It has proved increasingly popular with local and expatriate parents.