Harbour School staves off threat of a move with deal to renew lease

'Boutique' international school staves off threat of a move, but still seeks a permanent home

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 11:09am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 December, 2013, 5:10am

An international school in Kennedy Town has safely navigated its way through rental negotiations that had left it in danger of being forced to move.

Marathon talks between the Harbour School and the landlords of two of the three sites it uses on Belcher's Street ended in success, and the school will stay where it is until 2016. The leases on the two sites had been due to expire next summer.

But principal Dr Jadis Blurton said she was still looking for a site that could keep all 180 of its pupils under one roof instead of splitting them between three buildings on the same street.

"We've been constantly looking," Blurton said. "Every day we have a conference with somebody, trying to find an appropriate space. I would love to stay in the same area … but I've become more flexible about being further away, because it might not be possible to be here."

The Kennedy Town property market has heated up in recent years in anticipation of the opening of its MTR station next year.

The school only saved one of its sites, in Lungga Mansion, after agreeing a 50 per cent rental increase last year. That site was listed for sale for HK$48 million before the renewal. Its owner, a tea company, had paid just HK$22 million for it in 2011, Land Registry records show.

A Centaline property agent revealed that the school had been paying HK$100,000 per month for the 4,300 sq ft site before the renewal.

The school was forced out of its original home five years ago when its landlord sold the site. At the time, it was only a year old and had just seven pupils, but its growth has brought challenges.

"Because we expanded very fast … that was a struggle," Blurton said. "[Looking for space] was a nightmare."

Described as a "boutique" school, Harbour School offers two teachers for each class of 13. It caters for pupils aged between four and 14. Blurton, an educational psychologist, said the small classes and high number of teachers allowed the school to cater for everyone from gifted students to children with learning difficulties.

Carolyn Campbell, who moved to Hong Kong last year from Britain, said Harbour was the only school suitable for both her 11-year-old daughter, who has a high-functioning form of autism, and her nine-year-old daughter.

"It's a very good school for its own unique reasons," Campbell said.

The school's curriculum - based on an American system with an emphasis on science, history, and social studies - develops problem solving and reasoning skills rather than encouraging children to memorise facts, Blurton said. She is also proud of its wide selection of extracurricular classes, with poetry, wrestling and pinhole photography among the most popular ones.

While Blurton wants to keep the school small, she does hope to add a high school, despite missing out on one of four subsidised sites for new international schools offered by the Education Bureau in April.

"Nothing's certain, but it's hopeful that we can find a place very soon," she said.