As more and more families move to gated communities on OMR or GST, it’s clear that the new schools here have become a major selling point. Lakshmi Krupa pays a visit

Last year, when J.K. Behera, who works in an IT company, decided to buy a home, one of his biggest concerns was finding one that would be close to a school for his five-year-old daughter. Today, Behera lives on the city’s IT corridor and couldn’t be happier with his choice of location. “I chose OMR and moved into my current home about a year ago because there are five schools within a five km radius of my home,” he says. Like Behera, several parents who need to move away from the city centre and closer to their work spaces are first looking to see if there are schools nearby.

While we may have to wait a few years to see if the quality of education in these suburban school branches is uncompromised, for now the big brand names are carrying the movement forward. “Many famous schools such as Sishya, DAV, Bala Vidya Mandir (where Behera’s daughter studies), Vidya Mandir and PSBB have started branches in suburbs,” says Behera. Many of these are housed within the campuses of the gated communities whose developers have invited schools to be a part of their project rather than wait for the development to take place on its own.

On OMR, for instance, the Hyderabad-based BSCPL Infrastructure, which is developing a major integrated 92-acre township called Bollineni Hillside on OMR has handed over a 60,000 sq. ft school building with 65 AC classrooms to Bala Vidya Mandir. Says Rajendra Joshi of BSCPL, “We wanted our homeowners to have everything within walking distance. They only need to leave the township for work. This reduces the burden on parents and their worry about picking up kids or whether they will be safe travelling home alone. In these townships, kids in Class III and IV walk to school without an adult accompanying them. This peace of mind is priceless.”

At one time, a lot of the good schools were located only in the city centre — Egmore, Royapettah, Adyar. N. Hariharan, office director, Chennai, Cushman & Wakefield, explains, “As the city started growing, new residential zones emerged along arteries like OMR and GST Road. Last year, OMR saw the launch of more than 1,000 units and GST more than 5,000 units. The large-scale development has prompted the opening of schools in the vicinity of these emerging residential pockets.”

Developers understand the importance of schools for potential buyers and how it impacts the way their project is viewed. Large developers invite schools to open branches within the overall project. DLF Garden City on OMR has a branch of the PSBB Millenium School on its campus while Bala Vidya Mandir has a branch in Bollineni Hillside and Vidya Mandir is a part of Estancia on GST Road. Some developers like Hiranandani have launched their own international schools in their residential complexes, such as Hiranandani Upscale on OMR. Says Hariharan, “While schools act as a USP and create higher demand for the projects, they also help in developing self-sustaining communities and reducing the need for commuting to the city.”

Akshaya Homes also launched its own school brand Akshara at its Today project. Says Chitty Babu, Chairman, “Back in the early 2000s when we first launched projects on OMR, the main concerns were two: access to healthcare and to educational institutions.” After years of developing projects in the area, Babu launched Akshara this year. “Akshaya’s next three projects will have a kindergarten school within the campus and the fourth one will have a full-fledged school from KG to Class XII,” he says.

To see what the presence of a school can do to a location, the north-western suburb of Mogappair is a good case study. DAV Mogappair was first established in 1989, and today the school boasts of three branches here — DAV Girls School (CBSE), DAV Boys School (CBSE) and a co-educational school affiliated to the State Board. Lalitha Thiagarajan, who heads DAV Mogappair Boys, says, “It was a decision we took because we wanted to cater to the needs of people who live on this side of the city. Now, there is a lot of demand for seats, starting from LKG!”

By 2004, Mogappair, once a pastoral village, had become a high-rise residential zone despite infrastructure not keeping pace. Schools were followed by hospitals, followed by IT companies, and the residents have flocked in. Almost all projects on the south-west corridor, servicing Chromepet, GST Road, Oragadam, etc, have their own schools. And in this area, average absorption of units has increased from 12 per cent in 2009 to 22 per cent in 2012. Clearly, where the schools are, people follow!