W-B Area Working With DEP On New School
WILKES-BARRE — The new consolidated high school for the Wilkes-Barre Area School District will be safe and will include capping that prevents exposure to mining-related chemicals, district Solicitor Raymond Wendolowski said at Thursday’s school board meeting.
The district is working closely with the state Department of Environmental Protection on the plan to build a new school in Plains Twp., Wendolowski added. The district plans to close on a deal to buy the 80-acre site for the new high school in October after the township planning commission approves a subdivision plan, Wendolowski said.
The land purchase from Pagnotti Enterprises will cost $4.25 million, and the construction cost is expected to exceed $100 million. The new school will merge the three high schools — GAR, Coughlin and Meyers — and could open in 2022.
A 2014 feasibility study noted environmental issues with the site. It was “repeatedly disturbed by mining activities,” and was used “as a mine spoil dump from deep mining” and “as a culm ash disposal site as part of a mine reclamation project,” a 2014 report said.
The school building and parking lots will be caps that prevent exposure to mining-related chemicals, and a two-foot cap of top soil will be placed on top of land used for fields and recreation areas, Wendolowski said. The district plans to use 20 acres on the 80-acre site for the new high school and is still determining the best location for the school, Wendolowski said.
Last month, the district approved contracts for dynamic compaction, a ground improvement technique that densifies soils and fill materials by using a drop weight.
That should be done in the fall, and construction will start in the spring, Wendolowski said. A year ago, the state Department of Environmental Protection given conditional approval to the district allowing the construction on the site between Maffett and Main streets in Plains Twp.
DEP required the school district to “modify the site or strengthen the proposed building foundation beyond that which is commonly designed for a facility not threatened by subsidence of the indicated magnitude.”
The new high school will contain a heritage room for alumni and community gatherings, Superintendent Brian Costello said at the meeting, while reviewing renderings of the new school plan. Costello also reviewed plans for a wrestling room, auditorium, gymnasium, cafeteria and a university-style learning commons area that will have library books.
Prior to the meeting, a group of about 20 protesters gathers outside the administration building objecting to the consolidation plan. About 12 protesters marched to the building from Meyers.
Protesters dispute claims that consolidation will reduce construction and operating costs. They also think keeping neighborhood schools help students academically.
The new school will have 120 classrooms, and the three current schools have 180, Costello said, explaining that the reduction means fewer teachers will be required. The new building will not allow more than 24 students in each classroom, which will enable class sizes to remain low, Costello said.
Wilkes-Barre resident Tracy Hughes told officials at the meeting the district is excluding the Wilkes-Barre community by building the school in Plains Twp.
“What community? ... You are going to put the city under,” she said.
Wendolowski said the new school will be centrally located within the school district and will be close to the city border.
Also at the meeting, attorney Ruth Borland said the board was violating the state Sunshine Act because the meeting room in the administration building was too small to accommodate people who wanted to attend Thursday’s meeting and they were stuck in the hallway. Wendolowski disagreed with her.
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