A spokesperson for an international school said it will begin work to demolish at least one structure encroaching on public land next week, but would not identify which one.
A woman who says she represents St. Andrews International School but would give neither her name nor position told Coconuts today that the public will see “obvious progress next week” on the process of removing a building from public land on the order of local officials.
“I cannot tell you the details,” said the spokesperson. “This is a matter between the school and the district office.”
She declined to comment on reports that teachers were told to remove their possessions from at least one building by Friday, the day after the term ends tomorrow.
As of Wednesday morning, there was no indication that any preparatory work had begun to demolish any of several structures that the Wattana District Office said were built illegally and must be torn down.
Neighbors today gathered by the school to sign a petition asking Bangkok Gov. Chadchart Sittipunt to visit and intervene.
They said the development of the public land, which once served as a seasonal flood catchment, has adversely affected their properties, and in at least one case, caused them to flood.
Among the residents of Soi Pridi Banyomyong 20 to sign the letter today were members of a Muslim community whose mosque has stood in the area for over 250 years.
“It’s a public space,” said Muhammad Mi Suwan, 60. “It may not be a big deal, but it’s part of the community.”
The community’s longest living resident, he remembers that the strip of land upon which the school has built structures was a waterway where people once fished and frolicked along the river.
“From what I remember, the space had a waterway where we were able to catch fish,” he said. “When the school arrived, they built a wall that closed off the waterway.”
He said that directly affects his home.
“When water falls where the waterway used to be, there is no drainage,” Muhammad said. “My house is lower than the school, so the water instead trickles down into our garden, where some of our plants will die.”
The wall is located behind the homes of Muhammad and Montri Charoentria, who also signed the petition.
Muhammad has lived there long before the school was built around the turn of the millenium. He and other neighbors said St. Andrews has often ignored their requests for it to alleviate its impacts.
“The school has ignored their way of life and any of the complaints lodged by the Muslim community and its neighbors,” said Mayta Lerttamrab, a neighbor who has campaigned for years against the school’s impact on the community.
Numerous calls and emails to the school and its London owner Nord Anglia in recent weeks have gone unanswered.
Two school employees told Coconuts anonymously that teachers were told to clear out from one building by Friday. They asked that they not be identified because they were not authorized to speak and feared repercussions.
Pressed to identify which building would be demolished, the spokesperson today declined to say, repeating that it was a matter between the school and local government office.
Asked about the public interest in the community to reclaim use of the land, she insisted that it was “under our possession” despite being public land.
“The public land is under our possession; it is not open for the public to use,” she said. “It is under our possession for a long time. … Some part of the school is public land but it is under the school’s possession. It doesn’t mean the public can access [it] because we possess it first. It is under our possession.”
Asked to explain, she declined, saying it was a complicated legal matter.
She referred to old maps made by the military that the school says it relied on many years ago to win approval for its development plans from the Public Works Department.
The Watthana District Office ordered the school in November to demolish the encroaching structures and return the land to public use.
The neighbors also complain that the encroachment has worsened traffic congestion in the area.
“There is a lot of traffic,” Muhammad said. “Throughout Sukhumvit 71, come in the morning and evening you will see how much traffic there is. The school would put two policemen on the entrance and exit of the school, and it would cause traffic all the way from Khlong Tan to Phra Khanong.”
Montri cited multiple instances when the top of a school building water tank fell onto his property.
“The lid from the top of one of the school’s buildings fell onto my roof,” he said, laughing. “It fell down twice.”
He said the school only takes care of its own rather than considering the surrounding community.
“Look at every other school, they can fix traffic issues and live together with the community,” Montri said. “But for us, the school didn’t do anything in an organized manner, they just made it worse. We need to be together. Because people who use this route, it affects everyone, but it only benefits the school.”