W-B Area appeals state order to disclose building plans

i Jul 27th 2016

By Michael P. Buffer, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice

WILKES-BARRE — The Wilkes-Barre Area School District has filed a petition asking the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas to overturn a state order that the district disclose plans and specifications for its proposed new high school and the renovated Mackin school.

Solicitor Raymond Wendolowski, who filed the petition last Thursday, said “making building plans and specifications available to anyone clearly increases the risk to the occupants of the building by exposing all the structural, mechanical, electrical, communications, and other features of the facility.”

Kim Borland, an attorney with the group Save Our Schools, requested the information and claimed public disclosure was required “for the purpose of public debate” during “the pre-construction stage.” Save Our Schools has opposed the district’s plan to merge Coughlin and Meyers high schools into a new high school facility built on the Coughlin site in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

The district has claimed it can withhold the requested information because the state Right to Know Law has exemptions that allow information to be withheld if it jeopardizes safety and security and discloses proprietary information.

According to the state Office of Open Records decision, the district did not demonstrate “that the requested building plans and specifications would be reasonably likely to threaten the personal security of an individual” and “would be reasonably likely to threaten the physical security of a building.” The district also did not demonstrate that the requested information would expose trade secrets or confidential proprietary information, the ruling said.

The cost of the new high school is projected at $82 million. The district plans to demolish Coughlin’s main building and annex after a new location for Coughlin’s 11th and 12th grades is available.

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 school in the city’s East End.

The district plans to close Meyers in South Wilkes-Barre when the new high school is built in about four years. The district is also building a $15 million addition to Kistler Elementary School for seventh- and eighth-grade students from South Wilkes-Barre.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students from South Wilkes-Barre currently go to Meyers. The new consolidated high school will be for grades 9-12.