City zoning hearing to include Kistler expansion proposal

i Aug 4th 2016

By Michael P. Buffer, Wilkes-Barre Citizen’s Voice

WILKES-BARRE — The agenda for the city zoning hearing board meeting on Aug. 17 includes the Wilkes-Barre Area School District proposal to expand Kistler Elementary School, but does not include proposals to build a new high school and convert the Times Leader newspaper building into a school building.

The zoning board postponed a hearing on the Kistler expansion on July 20 because two board members recused themselves and one board member was absent. The recusals left only two board members who could vote at the meeting, and a quorum of three is needed to make decisions.

The Kistler addition for grades 7 and 8 and a new consolidated high school in downtown Wilkes-Barre for grades 9-12 will allow Meyers High School in South Wilkes-Barre to close in about four years. Meyers — located across from Kistler on Old River Road in South Wilkes-Barre — is used for grades 7-12.

The district wants to demolish Coughlin High School’s main building and annex and put the new high school on the 3.7-acre site, which is zoned for commercial use. The new four-story facility would allow the merger of Meyers and Coughlin.

Officials were hoping zoning requests for the new high school and Times Leader building would be submitted for the Aug. 17 agenda. Coughlin’s main building and annex were grandfathered as exempt from zoning because they were built prior to the commercial zoning designation.

Panzitta Enterprises Inc. has proposed renovating the Times Leader newspaper building, which is next to the Coughlin property and also in a commercial zone. Panzitta wants to buy the old newspaper building from Civitas Media and then lease space inside to the school district as a tenant.

A proposed 20-year lease with extensions would cost the district more than $13 million for the first 20 years, officials have said. The new high school is projected to cost $82 million, and the Kistler addition is projected at $22 million.