W-B Area seeks zoning changes for Kistler expansion

i Jul 7th 2016

By Michael P. Buffer,  The Citzens’ Voice

WILKES-BARRE — The Wilkes-Barre Area School District submitted an application to the city zoning hearing board for the expansion of Kistler Elementary School in South Wilkes-Barre.

The district plans to build a $15 million addition at the school to provide space for seventh and eight grades.

A zoning hearing on the application is scheduled to be held on July 20.

The Kistler addition — along with a plan to build a new consolidated high school in downtown Wilkes-Barre for grades 9-12 — will allow Meyers High School in South Wilkes-Barre to be closed in about four years.

Meyers is located across from Kistler on Old River Road and is used for grades 7-12.

The district is seeking a special exception to allow the addition in a residential district and a variance to increase the maximum building height in the R-1 district from 35 feet, 2.5 stories, to 51 feet, 3 stories.

The district also seeks a variance to increase the maximum driveway width from 20 feet to 32 feet and a variance to reduce the minimum number of parking spaces from 304 to 199. The proposed parking plan would increase off-street parking from 53 spaces to 199 spaces, according to the zoning application.

The district plans to merge Coughlin High School with Meyers in a new high school facility built on the Coughlin site in downtown Wilkes-Barre. 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.

Coughlin’s 11th and 12th grades may end up in the Times Leader newspaper building, which is next to the annex. According to a proposal from developer John Panzitta, his company would buy the old newspaper building, renovate the facility for school use and then lease space inside to the school district as a tenant. A 20-year lease with extensions would cost the district more than $13 million for the first 20 years.

The zoning hearing board will have to approve the plans to use the Times Leader building as a school and to build a new school on the 3.7-acre Coughlin lot because the properties are zoned for commercial use. A zoning hearing on those plans is expected in August, school district solicitor Ray Wendolowski said.

Coughlin’s main building and annex were grandfathered as exempt because they were built prior to the commercial zoning designation.