Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
DPM Tharman – Thank you for your presence with the Sikh community at SKA tonight.
Many thanks also to Member of Parliament for Jalan Besar GRC, Mr Pritam Singh of Aljunied GRC and former Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh. Heads of Sikh Institutions in Singapore. My colleagues at SKA, Patrons, Trustees, Management Committee, SKA members, friends, partners, well-wishers and donors.
A warm welcome to this evening’s celebration dinner to launch OUR new SKA building!
Thanks for bearing with us, New Building Key Features
- I want to start by first expressing my gratitude to our members for bearing with us over the duration of the makeover of the building. I hope you are happy with the outcome, and that you will consider the SKA as a choice venue to host not only family celebrations such as birthdays, weddings and anniversaries but also talks and forums for your organisations. We hope the enhanced building provides the ambience to attract both young and old, families and friends from not only the Sikh community but the Singapore community which use the SKA for their events.
- The new building’s key features are highlighted in the commemorative book. While we have used the words “makeover” and “refurbishment”, because of all changes and enhancements we made to the nearly half century old building, what we have is a new building. Besides this ballroom and another one on level 2, which has an enlarged floor space to cater for larger banquets, other features you would have noticed are the revamped ground floor to provide an attractive entrance ambience and new facilities, the new marbled lift lobbies with 3 new lifts instead of 2, a new service lift, new offices, and a gymnasium with large glass walls for users to view the sports and green fields. You would also have noticed our elderly and disabled friendly toilets and access ramps, all to make our building family friendly and inclusive to all people physically challenged. The building has also been enlarged with new semi-circular extensions to provide additional reception spaces outside the ballrooms.
- The fourth storey has new function rooms including a dance studio, while the previous zinc roof has been reconstructed as a roof-top activity area. It has marvellous views over the adjoining landscape including Balestier Plain fields.
Rationale for Total Rebuild
- Looking back many decades, the original 5 storey building was designed for modest practical purposes – as a meeting-point for the Sikh community to participate in social, educational, cultural and sporting activities. For the first two decades of SKA’s existence here until the early 1990’s, the building was mostly used for classes for young Singaporean Sikhs to learn the Punjabi language. On weekends, the SKA auditorium at the second floor hosted either Sikh or non-Sikh customary wedding ceremonies, with the level 1 hall used to host lunch or dinner receptions for wedding guests.
- As our older Gurdwaras were rebuilt, their new prayer halls were purpose-built to host larger wedding ceremonies. Also, with the setting up of the Singapore Sikh Education Foundation (SSEF) and recognition of Punjabi as a mother-tongue language, the educational function in Punjabi was no longer as pressing for SKA to sustain. Given these developments by the late 1990’s, a major renovation was undertaken at SKA to air-condition the hall at the second floor as a conducive venue for social functions while the third floor was converted into a social space with a restaurant and lounge. In parallel, the building’s power supply was upgraded to meet such new requirements, which had not been factored into the1970 building design.
- After more than 4 decades of high frequency usage as we staged countless cultural and social activities here, it became apparent that we needed to rebuild the aging SKA building to enhance its infrastructure and facilities to meet current and future needs. We faced two major challenges – (1) continuing to ensure a conducive, safe and accessible space for activities at the SKA, and (2) managing the escalating maintenance costs of our 45 year old building.
- We organised a retreat to seek the Sikh community’s views in 2013 on the future role of the SKA and features for the new building. The feedback was used to engage our community leaders, members and building consultants to finalise the design brief before calling for tenders. Construction commenced in November 2014 and was completed in November 2016 at a cost of approximately $12 million.
- The great support and encouragement by the community, and other well-wishers, motivated the Building Committee in completing the project, and overcoming many construction challenges along the way. Carrying out major additions and alterations especially to an old building presents quite different challenges from those of constructing a new building. Most of the engineering factors could be investigated upfront in the case of a new building. However, for an existing building, while some level of investigations could be done, many issues were often only discovered when construction commenced and demolition and stripping down began.
- Strengthening works were required for the old building to comply with current building regulations and standards. All the columns of the building and practically all the beams needed to be strengthened. The floor slabs had to be redone to take higher loading. The foundations had also to be enlarged and numerous piles driven below the foundations to support the higher building loads. Doing these works below and within an existing building added to its complexity and lengthened the construction period.
- The mechanical and electrical (M&E) infrastructure had basically to be completely redone, including providing sprinklers throughout the building for compliance with current fire safety regulations.
- The building is compete – hurray! And thanks to all Sikh institutions for their tremendous support throughout the journey, the support of members and other well-wishers, as well as members of the Building Committee.
Significance of 30 Dec 2017 and Opening of New Building
- In a book published to coincide with the SKA’s 75th Anniversary in 2006, Prof Tan Tai Yong wrote that the founding members of the SKA in 1931 could not have imagined that the SKA would evolve from their dream of a sports club to grow into a national Sikh institution playing a central role in the transmission of Sikh heritage and cultural traditions to its younger generations while developing members of the community to be active citizens of the larger Singapore nation.
- I would like to take a moment to recall and salute the single-mindedness of the pioneering group of successful Sikh businessmen and civil servants who had formed a Building Committee in the 1960s, rallying the local Sikh community to fund-raise and construct the SKA premises here at Tessensohn Road by late 1969.
- My team at SKA were inspired by the example set by these Sikh pioneers. They showed us what unity and steadfast belief in fulfilling a unified vision could achieve. They worked tirelessly to rally the community of Sikhs to support the effort with what little they could contribute. This was the spirit the present Building Committee aspired to match in our endeavor to construct a new SKA building that would fulfil the aspirations of current and future generations of the Sikh community.
- The membership of Singapore Khalsa Association is not just individuals who are members of SKA but also the Sikh community at large. Our programmes ensure that the entire Sikh community has access to our activities. We bring together the various Sikh institutions and work cohesively with them to keep our rich Sikh cultural heritage and sporting activities vibrant to the Sikh community and the community at large. This, we believe, helps us to ensure strong community bonding. We also want to ensure that our next generation of Sikhs, like the pioneering generation, are imbued with the values and traditions of the community to take it forward to greater heights. We want to invite the younger people to join us to ensure vibrancy and continuity of the SKA brand well into the next 50 years.
- Additionally, to foster greater interaction and engage the larger Singaporean community, we have over the years expanded the scope of our programmes to ensure that they do not just cater for the Sikh community but also to embrace and welcome non-Sikhs to share in our heritage. This is part of our efforts to foster and strengthen community bonding among the different races in Singapore.
- In this regard, we are pleased with our close cooperation with the Central Singapore CDC in our larger community bonding efforts. This is manifested in the Vesakhi Mela where we invite locals, new citizens, foreign workers and the wider Singapore community to participate in the carnival and sporting activities by forming multi-racial teams. We also work with the Peoples Association on events such as the Chingay procession where SKA leads the Sikh community’s participation to show our cultural heritage and multi-racial Singapore society. And we also work with SINDA to improve educational prospects for the young through the SKA’s Khalsa Kindergarten.
- The Balestier Plain Clubs, which include Ceylon Sports Club, Indian Association, Singapore Chinese Recreation Club and the SKA work together in sharing facilities as well as organising various events. This reflects the close bonds established among the Balestier Plain Clubs providing a hub for youth sporting and cultural clubs.
- As we celebrate the formal opening of the SKA’s new building tonight, I wish to sincerely thank all donors and well-wishers, management committee members, SKA members and staff, for your unstinting dedication and commitment to this endeavour.
- I would like specifically to highlight the support of all Sikh institution and individuals who will be honoured on stage later as well as the very significant contribution by the Lee Foundation of $1.2m. The Lee Foundation was also the major donor in the 1960s for the original building, and this time again donated generously. We have named the second storey hall “Lee Foundation Hall” to show the Sikh community’s gratitude to Lee Foundation for its substantial donations and unwavering over the years.
- I look forward to working with you all to make the SKA’s next chapter its best yet! I wish you all an enjoyable and fun filled evening as well a great start to 2018! Happy New Year!
[A copy of the the speech was emailed to Asia Samachar]
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