Date
21 October 2019
Given the land shortage in the city, Hong Kong needs to step up efforts to reclassify vacant properties,  including those that had housed schools earlier, for alternative use, observers say.  Photo: Bloomberg
Given the land shortage in the city, Hong Kong needs to step up efforts to reclassify vacant properties, including those that had housed schools earlier, for alternative use, observers say. Photo: Bloomberg

Why vacant school premises must be put for reuse

The government earlier listed out more than 20 vacant government premises across Hong Kong’s urban districts. Among them, five were vacant school premises with floor areas anywhere between 1,900 to 3,700 square meters, remaining unused for long.

Actually, the total number of vacant school premises should be a lot higher.

In April 2017, the Education Bureau handed over 183 vacant school premises, which were no longer required for school use, to the Planning Department to help explore the opportunities for long-term alternative use of the sites.

As of now, only some of those sites have been re-considered for residential use.

With many properties lying vacant, it is not surprising that the abandoned school buildings have gone into disrepair, with the land filled with weeds and the buildings seen with broken doors and windows and moldy walls.

Meanwhile, some schools have faced a class reduction crisis and have ben using only a part of their buildings. As they were using only the lower floors, the unused upper floors have seen little or no maintenance, resulting in problems such as leaky pipes.

Overall, the vacant school premises mean we are wasting our valuable land resources. It is time authorities did something to prevent such waste.

Given the scarcity of land in Hong Kong, it is difficult to procure new sites for development. Given this, the government should start altering or restructuring vacant school premises so that they can be used for other purposes.

There are still a number of public-sector schools housed in substandard 40-year-old premises, and making do without facilities such as a decent assembly hall, library, music room and, in some cases, eve proper fire safety installations.

No matter how many annual improvement or refurbishment works are commissioned, these buildings always remain shabby.

The schools have proposed various restructuring plans that the government should consider. For those that have part of their premises vacant or had seen a neighboring school closed down, they should be entitled to full-premise reconstruction and expansion in phases.

If that is done, it can help solve the “substandard” issue once and for all.

Located in communities, schools, after undergoing renovations, can open up their facilities to the public after school hours or on non-school days. The premises, for instance, can be let out as venues for athletes training or district sports activities, or for providing Elder Academy or parent education programs.

In her policy address last year, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that the government will pursue more vigorously the “single site, multiple uses” model in multi-storey development on government land in order to provide more “government, institution or community” facilities, making optimal use of limited land resources and improving the community environment through redevelopment of government facilities.

Vacant school premises should be first considered in implementing such model.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 26

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RC

Legislative Council member from the education sector