As part of the early industrial development of Jurong, small residential estates were built to accommodate the increasing workers’ population as well as the resettled farmers and fishermen from the Jurong and Tuas villages. Hence, by the mid-sixties and mid-seventies respectively, the housing projects of Taman Jurong and Boon Lay were launched.
The Taman Jurong residential district was first developed by the Economic Development Board (EDB) and then by Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) between 1964 and 1975. The development of Boon Lay estate, on the other hand, began in 1969, when the villages were cleared and the tracks of Jurong Road expunged, replaced by the construction of new tarmac roads.
The Boon Lay estate, consisting of Boon Lay Drive, Boon Lay Place and Boon Lay Garden, was named after Chew Boon Lay (1851-1933), the Chinese pioneer who had owned huge gambier and pepper plantations in the Jurong vicinity in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
By the mid-seventies, the small housing estate was taking shape, with the network of roads completed, and new JTC flats ready for the workers at the nearby industries. The construction of JTC flats lasted until 1979. As many as 53 blocks were built, numbering from 161 to 220, and ranging from 10-storey to 15-storey and 20-storey tall. Simple public amenities were built too, such as a children’s playground with swings and see-saws, and mini football field, between Block 192 and 196.
The blocks of 167 to 172 have designs similar to the former JTC flats at Yung Kuang Road, where two parallel blocks were served by a common lift system in between the blocks. From their top views, the blocks look like the letter “H”. There were other similarly designed flats at Boon Lay Drive (Block 161-166, 192-197), but most were demolished in the late eighties and early nineties.
Since the beginning of 2017, the 40-year-old Block 167-172 of Boon Lay Drive have been vacated. It was six years ago, in 2011, when the flats were selected in the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS).
In 1988, six empty rental blocks at Boon Lay Drive, built in 1973, were used as Fighting in Built-Up Areas (FIBUA) for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) servicemen. The three-room flats had been awaiting for demolition by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). It was the first time SAF conducted their urban warfare training outside their designated facilities at Pasir Laba’s Basic Combat Training Centre and the FIBUA Village at Jalan Sarimbun.
The FIBUA exercise was carried out from Mondays to Saturdays and lasted for six months, where blanks and thunderflashes were constantly used. It was an unforgettable moment for the Boon Lay residents to experience the sounds of firing and explosives at their doorsteps.
In 1989, after the FIBUA exercise had ended, Block 192, one of the six blocks scheduled to be demolished, could not be torn down despite the large amount of explosives used by HDB. Dubbed by the amused residents as the “invincible” block, Block 192 stubbornly stood for several months, before finally demolished using the conventional ball-and-crane method.
The balloting for the Boon Lay flats were carried out in different stages in the mid- and late-seventies. Block 198, 199 and 200, for example, were completed by the JTC in the mid-seventies. As many as 131 units, at $35,000 each, were offered in 1976 to the Jurong workers, with the balloting officiated by Ho Kah Leong, the former Member of Parliament (MP) for Jurong.
The ownership of the JTC flats was at first limited to the workers at Jurong. After 1977, the restriction was lifted and the units were subsequently put up for sale and rental to those working outside of the Jurong vicinity. In 1982, the management of the JTC flats at Boon Lay was handed over to HDB as the sole housing agency in Singapore.
The Boon Lay flats of the seventies had basic installations such as telephone lines, where the owners could request for new telephones to be fitted by the Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS), a statutory board established in 1972 from the government’s Telecommunication Department.
But the flats were not without issues. In 1977, residents living at 198 to 206 blocks of Boon Lay Drive made complaints of brownish and salty water flowing from their taps, which, after investigations by the Public Utilities Board (PUB), was due to corroded pipes and water storage tanks. For weeks, the residents had to make daily trips to the nearby refuse centre to collect water for their cooking and washing purposes.
Other than the frequent water disruptions, the Boon Lay residents also faced another headache in the mid-seventies, when construction activities, reclamation works as well as smoke from the nearby plywood factory and Jurong power station polluted the air badly and staining the residents’ furniture and clothes with grime. The situation only turned better after the Ministry of Environment’s Anti-Pollution Unit stepped in to monitor and limit the emission from the power station and factories.
The small housing estate was also plagued in the seventies and early eighties by burglaries, armed robberies and gangsterism. In the year 1980, there were as many as eleven murders at Boon Lay; the most shocking case being the attack of five Malaysian workers by an armed gang. The anti-crime police unit launched a major operation, rounding up dozens of suspected gangsters at the new Jurong Town Police Station.
The new police station, located at the junction of Boon Lay Drive and Corporation Road, was officially opened in 1980 by Goh Chok Tong, then-Minister for Trade and Industry, at a construction cost of $2.7 million. Serving as the new headquarters for the Rural West Division, it aimed to provide swift response and assistance to the Jurong vicinity that already had a 250,000-strong residential and working population in the early eighties.
In 1986, the Boon Lay Neighbourhood Police Post (NPP) was set up at Boon Lay Place, first as a temporary post at a container cabin, and later at the permanent location at Block 210’s void deck. The purpose of NPPs was to tackle petty crimes and offences, such as thefts and conflicts, and carry out patrols and house visits.
There was also the Jurong Fire Station, located at the corner of Boon Lay Drive. Officially opened in 1975 by Othman bin Wok, the then-Minister for Social Affairs, it had a grand opening ceremony made up of a firemen marching contingent, inspection of new equipment and facilities, and spectacular fire-fighting demonstrations.
Amenities and services for the Boon Lay residents would improve over the years. In 1978, the Singapore Bus Service (SBS) introduced new direct feeder services between the residential and industrial sectors at Boon Lay and Taman Jurong during the peak hours so that the commuters need not transfer to other buses at the Jurong Bus Interchange.
The new services 249 and 249A, costing 20 cents per trip, plied between Boon Lay Drive, Corporation Road, Jalan Samulun and the National Iron and Steel Mills, and were terminated at the former Boon Lay Bus Terminal. Today, the premises of the former bus terminal has been converted into an open-air parking space.
A hawker centre and market were added at Boon Lay Place in 1976. Many street hawkers from Jurong Road 13th and 15th milestones were relocated to the hawker centre’s new food stalls.
The Boon Lay Shopping Centre was up in 1978, becoming Jurong’s first shopping and residential complex. The simple neighbourhood hub, in its early days, had many money changers to cater to the large foreign population, most of them Malaysians, working at the Jurong industrial estate.
In the early eighties, Boon Lay residents had their own cinema too, when Shaw Organisation opened the Savoy Cinema, or commonly known as the Old Boon Lay Cinema, beside Boon Lay Shopping Centre. The cinema lasted for more than a decade until the late nineties.
Several schools were established at Boon Lay estate during its development stage.
Boon Lay Garden Primary School was set up in 1977, catering to the new housing estate’s increasing number of families. Opened by Ngeow Pack Hua, former MP for Boon Lay, it had about 1,080 students and 27 classes in its first year of enrollment. In 2001, the school was relocated to a new campus along Boon Lay Drive. Today, its classes have increased to 50 with more than 1,500 students.
Jurong Vocational Institute, Boon Lay Garden Primary School’s old neighbour along Jalan Boon Lay, was set up as early as 1969 (its official opening was in 1973) to train students in their technical expertise and provide future skilled workers for the booming industries at Jurong. It was converted in 1992 into the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) Jurong.
The old campus sites of Jurong Vocational Institute and Boon Lay Garden Primary School are currently occupied by River Valley High School.
Another school at the Boon Lay vicinity was Boon Lay Secondary School, established in 1977 and officially opened in 1979 as a bilingual school with classes in both English and Chinese streams. The school began with only 13 classes, but gradually expanded to 34 classes by the early eighties. In 1998, Boon Lay Secondary School became a sole English-medium school, and it moved, a year later, to its new premises at Jurong West.
One of Singapore’s two remaining clock-design playgrounds can be found at Boon Lay. The other one is located beside the Bishan Bus Interchange. Such sand-based playgrounds, along with other iconic designs, were commonly found in the new towns and housing estates in the eighties and nineties.
In 1981, the Boon Lay residents had a chance to witness the National Day Parade at their doorsteps. The National Day Parade in 1981 had been decentralised and was held concurrently at several venues, including the sport complexes at Jurong, Queenstown, Toa Payoh and Jalan Besar.
55 contingents and cultural groups lined up at the Jurong Stadium, witnessed by the former Minister for Labour Ong Teng Cheong and 10,000 spectators, before marching from the Fourth Chin Bee Road to Boon Lay Drive.
The Boon Lay estate is now part of a larger Boon Lay district, which is inclusive of the Jurong West New Town. Like Taman Jurong, new HDB developments have been launched at Boon Lay in the recent years, as replacement and upgrading for the aging JTC flats. The previous SERS project was carried out for Block 180-184 in 2006; the redeveloped site is now known as Boon Lay Meadow. It is now Block 167-172’s turn to be redeveloped.
More Photos of the En-Bloc JTC Flats (Block 167-172) at Boon Lay Drive:
Published: 17 September 2017