THE UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG has been a Central and Western District landmark for 95 years, standing out from the rows of residential blocks below. But rapid commercial and residential development are encroaching on its lofty perch and forcing it to develop as it gears up to build its Centennial Campus by 2011. The new campus will provide much-needed space to accommodate a substantial in the student population under four-year degrees from 2012. Neighbouring residents are worried about an adverse impact on the tranquil surroundings and environment, but the expansion is said to be crucial to the university's strategic goal of becoming a leading university in Asia. 'I think we have to expand this site if HKU is to stand any chance of improving its reputation in the world,' said pro-vice-chancellor John Malpas, who is overseeing the Centennial Campus plan. HKU ranked 33 in the Times Higher Education Supplement poll on institutions worldwide last year. Professor Malpas hopes it will be firmly within the top 25 by 2012-2015. Achieving this goal also requires an extra HK$8 billion to HK$10 billion for additional faculty and resources to boost HKU's international research reputation. The university also plans to hire an extra 200 staff over the next five years. HKU has staged road shows and held community workshops and open forums to solicit feedback from the public and, not least of all, seek community support for the expansion plan. But opposition from neighbours, predominantly residents at The Belcher's, opposite the new campus, remains strong. 'Many who turned up at special residents' meetings were against the plan,' said Edwin Fung, who lives at The Belcher's. 'Having so many more students will bring more noise and nuisance. We hear noises from students barbequing and chanting from the halls next to our blocks at night. The new buildings will damage our existing hillside view. The university has put its development above our interests.' He questioned the choice of the site. While HKU was envisaging the creation of a university walk linking the expansion on the hillside next to Hanking Wong Building with Knowles Building on the main campus, Mr Fung doubted if the newly built area could accommodate long-term needs. 'It is a small area and may not be adequate for meeting future needs. Why not find a bigger site elsewhere?' he asked. Victor Yeung Su-yin, a member of the Central and Western District Council (CWDC), echoed residents' concerns about the destruction of greenery outside their flats. 'Hong Kong is a concrete forest and green spaces are becoming more and more scarce. All the so-called forums held by the university to consult the public were just shows.' There is also the concern from district councillors and green groups over the planned demolition of a Grade III historic building. The Elliot Filters Treatment Works and Pumping Station, built about 1931 to supply clean water to residents in Mid-Levels and Western district, was the first water treatment plant in Pok Fu Lam. Since old reservoirs need to be relocated to make way for the building of the Centennial Campus, the treatment works is scheduled for demolition to create space for access to the tunnels for new salt water reservoirs as well as the site for new fresh water service reservoirs. HKU is adopting a reinterpretation approach, which means pulling the structure down but building a museum elsewhere on campus to showcase the early history of water supply in the territory. The facade of the works will be retained and relocated at the museum. 'It will become another community facility and it will draw people on to the campus,' Professor Malpas said. Two other historic buildings, the former Senior Staff Quarters and Workmen's Quarters of the Water Supplies Department, will be preserved for student and public use. HKU maintained its proposal on the preservation of heritage buildings had the support of the majority of concerned stakeholders after an extensive consultation exercise. But Central and Western District Councillor Stephen Chan Chit-kwai demanded that the university consult the council on its implementation plan for the reinterpretation project, tree-felling and traffic impact assessment. 'We hope it can set up a working group comprising members from the community and CWDC over the reinterpretation plan,' he said. Acknowledging the university's need for expansion, Albert Lai Kwong-tak, director of Conservancy Association and one of the conveners for a resource advisory group set up by HKU, called on the university to set up an institute to engage the community in development issues and reduce any negative impact on the environment through an aesthetic design and incorporating public views. 'Now is the time for HKU to set up a model for sustainable development. It has the most resources and skills in coming up with environmentally friendly designs and also has strong support from alumni. It should set much higher standards than other developers,' he said. Professor Malpas stressed the university placed great importance on community interaction. He cited a visitors' centre and social service advisory clinics among the future facilities at the Centennial Campus, together with a 1,500-seat performance venue, coffee shop, quadrangles and a sculpture garden that could benefit the public and help regenerate Western District. A 24-hour bookstore could be set up, provided there was demand, he added. 'We want a top-class bookstore. If you look at any top-ranked university in the world, you will find one of their major assets is the bookstore. It sells more than just books and has facilities that can benefit the community,' he said. Also being envisaged was a bridge linking the campus with the MTR station on the proposed West Island Line, allowing students to reach the campus without walking past The Belcher's, avoiding possible nuisance to residents. He maintained sustainability was a main priority and only low-rises would be built. The university was also experimenting with green roofs on future buildings to minimise any negative visual impact on residents across the street. The University Grants Committee has pledged to fund about half of the HK$2.5 billion required for the new campus. Professor Malpas said he was confident about raising the other half. 'Philanthropy in Hong Kong is only just beginning but HKU has shown the way to fundraise from the community.' The Centennial Campus served the vital purpose of facilitating a broad curriculum to produce graduates for a fast-changing, global working environment, he said. A key component of the architectural design was the 'learning commons', occupying an area of about 6,000 square metres, resembling an airport lounge, where students could use multi-media facilities, hi-tech classrooms, meeting rooms and also read and chat. It would be open 24 hours for students to work and relax. It would also be a 'one-stop shop' where students could access various kinds of help and services, from making multi-media presentations and producing videos to improving their writing skills. Professor Malpas said the much more student-centred curriculum would be flexible, allowing students to take on a variety of subjects and develop language, communication and other core skills through more group-centred projects and experiential learning. Despite his neighbours' opposition, Professor Malpas, who also lives at The Belcher's, said he was convinced about both the timeliness and location of the expansion. He maintained the expansion site was on land zoned for government, institution and community uses. 'I think there is an implicit understanding in the government that HKU at some stage would have to expand so it is basically understood that this is the only place that we can do something. It is a question of whether we can do it in the best possible way,' he said. 'We have got to have a critical mass in terms of facilities. We would find it very difficult to move into the world top 25 if we worked on the present facilities but I don't want people to think the university is just expansionist. 'Working with the community was one of the four main areas of our strategic plan three to four years ago. Now is the opportunity for an institution with multiple capabilities and capacities to work with a district to enhance it,' he said. Site preparation and the relocation of reservoirs would be carried out next year before construction began in 2009. Details about the Centennial Campus at http://hku/hk/centcampus .