The former Chong Cheng School on Aliwal Street, which has been transformed into a new community centre, is another ancient school that has recently had a second lease of life. The Aliwal Arts Centre was formed from the Chong Cheng and Chong Pun school structures, which are similar to the National Design Centre (former Saint Anthony’s Convent) and the Stamford Arts Centre (former Stamford Primary School). It is the second project in the Framework for Arts Spaces, which was announced by the National Arts Council in 2009. Goodman Arts Centre was the first.
The Art Deco-style former Chong Cheng School building, which stands out in the generally low-rise Kampong Glam Conservation District filled with two-storey shophouses, is easily distinguishable. The Streamline Moderne’s long geometric lines and nautical features bear a resemblance to the Art Deco Tiong Bahru flats constructed by the Singapore Improvement Trust in the 1930s. In the same period, Aliwal Street School was also constructed.
The Yang Zheng School was founded in 1903 and became the Chong Cheng School. It was one of several early Hokkien-medium schools established and endowed by the community and benefactors such as Tan Kah Kee and the Haw Par brothers. It was re-named Chong Cheng School in 1909, moving between several locations on Beach Road. Because enrollment in the school increased dramatically, a new campus was constructed on Aliwal Street. The Chong Cheng Boys’ School and the Chong Pun Girls’ School were housed in different parts of the structure, but they shared similar facilities such as the school hall.
The most inexpensive school fees were charged by Chong Cheng School, which is a Chinese-medium primary school in Singapore. From 1950 until the mid-1950s, for example, the monthly school fee was $3. The students were generally located in the vicinity of Jalan Besar and Kampong Glam. The fifth President of Singapore, Mr Ong Teng Cheong, studied at Aliwal during the late 1940s while the school was still located there.
Aliwal Arts Centre is a multi-discipline arts centre dedicated to the performing arts with an area of 4,200 square meters, including converted areas and shared facilities such as multi-purpose halls and studios. With so much land scarcity in Singapore, the conversion of Chong Cheng and Chong Pun schools into Aliwal Arts Centre should be regarded as successful adaptive reuse.