W-B Area, Panzitta submit zoning applications for new school facilities

i Oct 6th 2016

By Michael P. Buffer, Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice

WILKES-BARRE — The Wilkes-Barre Area School District and Panzitta Enterprises submitted zoning applications for new high school facilities at the Coughlin High School and Times Leader properties on North Main Street.

The zoning hearing board will review the applications during a hearing on Oct. 19.

The school district plans to demolish the 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.

View the schematics

The new high school would allow Coughlin and Meyers high schools to merge and is estimated to cost $82 million.

The district wants the zoning board to approve a special exception to enlarge the floor area of the existing nonconforming use permission, which allows a 25-percent expansion on the site. The district wants a 55-percent expansion, records show.

Panzitta wants to buy the old newspaper building from Civitas Media and then lease space inside to the school district as a tenant.

Panzitta wants the zoning board to approve a special exception to change the existing nonconforming use permission from a newspaper publication and distribution facility to a public school building.

Panzitta has created a new company for the project, Coughlin on Main LLC, and filed an agreement of sale with the city, attorney Francis J. Hoegan said.

City zoning Officer William C. Harris said the agreement of sale was not yet available for review Wednesday.

The sale is contingent on zoning approval, said Hoegan, who declined to disclose the sales prices in the agreement. He said that information would “come out at the hearing” on Oct. 19.

If the zoning board approves a variance for the Times Leader building, the district would have to finalize a lease for the building. Officials have talked about a 99-year lease with the first 20 years costing roughly $13 million.

The Times Leader 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.

Times Leader Media Group announced in December 2014 it planned to move its staff at the North Main Street building to a production/press building on East Market Street. The company sold that property in April but leases the facility from the buyer, CIV-News Multi LP.

No timetable for the move has been announced.

Times Leader publisher Mike Murray did not return a message seeking comment on Wednesday.

Attorney Kim Borland has filed an appeal of the Wilkes-Barre Zoning Hearing Board’s decision to allow a $22 million expansion of Kistler Elementary School in South Wilkes-Barre. The Kistler expansion would let the district close Meyers and send students in ninth through 12th grades from current Meyers neighborhoods to the new consolidated high school in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

Meyers is currently used for grades seven through 12, and the Kistler expansion would add the seventh and eighth grades to its building.

The district plans to close Meyers in about five years after the downtown high school is built.