By Michael P. Buffer, Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice
WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes-Barre Area School District Superintendent Brian Costello said Tuesday he is meeting with superintendents from neighboring school districts to see if they are interested in a regional magnet school for the performing arts.
The school could operate as the Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technical Center does, Costello explained at a meeting to get public input on a proposal for the Meyers High School site in South Wilkes-Barre.
The performing arts school could use the auditorium portion of the Meyers building.
Area school districts could provide basic education courses for half of the school day at local schools, and then send students to the regional performing arts school for the other half of the school day, Costello said.
John Broomall of the Pennsylvania Alliance For Arts Education traveled from suburban Philadelphia to attend the meeting, and he said Northeastern Pennsylvania needs a school to focus on performing arts.
Most speakers criticized the plan to demolish most of the Meyers building in 2020, preserve the Meyers auditorium and renovate the football stadium on the site.
Many speakers are active with a group known as Save Our Schools, and they continued to ask school officials to get a second opinion on the cost to renovate the entire Meyers building.
“That is a city treasure, a historical treasure,” said Richard Holodick, president of Save Our Schools.
District consultants claim renovating the entire Meyers building would cost $113 million.
The board decided last year to merge Meyers and Coughlin high schools into a new facility built on the Coughlin site in downtown Wilkes-Barre after officials determined the district could no longer afford to operate three high schools. GAR High School is the other district high school and is not part of the consolidation plan.
The district plans to spend more than $100 million on the construction of the consolidated high school and an addition at Kistler Elementary School.
The Kistler addition would allow seventh and eighth grade students to go to Kistler in South Wilkes-Barre.
Tuesday’s meeting was at Kistler.
The school board last week also authorized the design of a second football stadium in the district at Solomon Plains Junior High/Elementary School in Plains Township.
Installing seats, lights and artificial turf at the football field at Solomon Plains would cost $5 million to $7 million, and the Meyers site options are estimated at $15 million to $17 million.
“Why build new stadiums?” Tracey Hughes asked, noting district problems with finances and standardized test scores.
Solomon/Plains Junior High School football coach Nino Cinti attended the meeting with eight players in support of the plan for a football stadium in Plains Township.
“In 23 years, Coughlin hasn’t had a home game,” Cinti said.
Coughlin lost its stadium in Plains Township when the district built an expanded Solomon Plains complex and has since played home football games at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium adjacent to the Meyers building.
“Like you said, this is Meyers stadium,” Cinti said while arguing with Hughes.
Costello said both the renovated stadium and the new stadium in Plains Township would be used by many teams, including soccer and field hockey teams.
Many Wilkes-Barre Area schools currently play games on fields owned by Wilkes-Barre, and the board last week agreed to pay the city $17,200 for annual field maintenance.
Joe Borland said he is concerned the Meyers site plan will never materialize and is a ploy “to distract” attention from the consolidation of Meyers and Coughlin and “throw a bone to a community.”
The district plans to demolish Coughlin’s vacant main building and the adjacent annex, which is still used for students, and build a new 350,000-square-foot public school building.
The district also wants to finalize a lease to use the Times Leader building on North Main Street in downtown Wilkes-Barre. The old newspaper building would provide a new temporary location for Coughlin’s 11th and 12th grades during the 2017-18 school year.
In January, the district closed Coughlin’s main building and moved the 11th and 12th grades into the annex and the ninth and 10th grades into the renovated Mackin Elementary School.