August 31, 2008 Sunday

Next stop on Downtown Line: Hwa Chong station?

By Jamie Ee Wen Wei and Esther Teo

The name Hwa Chong might no longer just bring to mind a school.

If some alumni and current students of Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) have it their way, it could soon be the name of an MRT station as well.

Over the past few weeks, the Bukit Timah school, which has about 4,000 students, has been canvassing students to participate in the naming of the station.

It will be built in front of the school.

Some have started blogging and circulating e-mail in support of the move. If the campaign succeeds, it will be the first time an MRT station is named after a school.

Earlier, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) had opened its feedback portal to seek suggestions for names of nine stations on the 16.6km Downtown Line 2.

It is due to open in 2015.

For now, the stations are named Rochor, Stevens, Duchess, Sixth Avenue, Blackmore, Beauty World, Hillview, Cashew and Petir.

The station outside HCI is dubbed Duchess after a road near the school.

The LTA said the names should identify the station readily and have a link to the heritage of the neighbourhood, if possible.

The stations should not be named after public structures, commercial and residential developments.

Several alumni members have also sent e-mail messages to students and fellow alumni to support the exercise.

There is even a Facebook group called 'Help rename Duchess station to Hwa Chong' on the popular networking website.

Its creator, Mr Howard Fu, 22, graduated from the then Hwa Chong Junior College in 2004.

'It has established its presence in the area for more than 80 years, witnessing the history of Singapore through both its turbulent and glorious times,' said the current University of Southern California undergraduate.

When contacted, an LTA spokesman said the response to the exercise - which ended last Tuesday - has been good.

She confirmed that Hwa Chong is among the names suggested for Duchess station.

Names will be shortlisted for public polling next month. The final names are subject to the approval of the Street and Building Names Board.

The Hwa Chong moniker, however, has drawn criticism online. One HCI student wrote in his blog: 'By naming it Hwa Chong station, I think we're being unfair to nearby residents.'

Twelve of the 20 residents in the area whom The Sunday Times spoke to were also not supportive of the name change.

Student Nazri Eddy, 18, said: 'It's a bit narcissistic to name the station after the school. There are others in the area too.'

But some felt the suggestion made sense. Mr Lee Wai Kee, 70, a pump attendant, said: 'If you call it Duchess, nobody will know where it is.'

Two schools in the neighbourhood - Nanyang Primary School and Raffles Girls' Primary School (RGPS) - gave their support.

Said Miss Tan Siok Cheng, principal of RGPS: 'We're perfectly happy to have it called Hwa Chong station as the station is near Hwa Chong. The institute has been a landmark for such a long time in Singapore.'