By Denise Allabaugh, Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice
WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes University officials announced plans Friday for a $3.5 million South Campus Gateway initiative, a three-part project that includes a number of improvements and additions.
The first part is a $1 million project that will create new entrances to the Henry Student Center parking lot from South River and South Franklin streets and is aimed at relieving traffic congestion on West South Street.
The second part is a $1.35 million project that will create a new pedestrian walkway in front of the Henry Student Center and will include new sidewalks and lighting on West South and South Franklin streets.
The third part is $1.15 million project that will create a gateway from the Henry Student Center to Stark Learning Center.
Wilkes University President Patrick Leahy said the project will involve rebuilding sidewalks and will create a safer pedestrian crossing. Construction should start next summer, he said.
“What we want to do is make sure that we can connect the southern part of our campus to the heart of our campus in the most seamless, attractive, safe way possible,” Leahy said. “Around our student center, which is our busiest building on the campus, we will redirect the traffic and build much more pedestrian-friendly space. In the end, it will be a much more traditional residential campus but it will also serve the neighborhood, our students and people driving through the area.”
Dan Cardell, chairman of Wilkes University’s board of trustees, said the campus enhancements will help Wilkes University recruit more students, beautify the campus, make it safer and improve the surrounding neighborhoods.
“This is what I call a win-win-win for the students, for the university and for the city,” Cardell said.
Allie Grudeski, a senior pharmacy major and student body president at Wilkes University, said West South Street in front of the Henry Student Center is a busy area and students are often holding up traffic. The project “will definitely help for the traffic that’s right there, both cars and students,” she said.
Wilkes University officials announced the project on homecoming weekend a year after dedicating a $1.7 million gateway project on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre last homecoming weekend.
State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, said $1.6 million in state transportation funding was secured for the South Campus Gateway project and the university will cover the remaining costs.
“It is the latest project in a growing list of historic investments of tens of millions of dollars in both public and private funds dedicated to the transformation of both Wilkes University and downtown Wilkes-Barre,” Yudichak said.
“There is no better example of how a public-private partnership can be successful than right here,” said state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre.
Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George said Wilkes University’s commitment to improving the campus is great news for the city.
“Wilkes-Barre citizens will benefit from Wilkes’ investment and will be able to enjoy beautiful and safe surroundings,” George said. “Additionally, this project will reduce traffic congestion, making the community safer for Wilkes students and Wilkes-Barre residents.”