Zoning hearing on Kistler school expansion postponed

i Jul 21st 2016

By Michael P. Buffer, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice

WILKES-BARRE — The city zoning hearing board abruptly postponed Wednesday’s hearing on the expansion of Kistler Elementary School after two board members recused themselves from voting on the Wilkes-Barre Area School District’s request for zoning variances.

One board member was absent, and the recusals left only two board members who could vote at the meeting. A quorum of three is needed to make decisions.

Board member Edward DeMichele will have to attend the next meeting on Aug. 17, or the board will schedule a special meeting that DeMichele can attend, zoning board Solicitor Charles McCormick said.

Zoning board member Hayden White recused himself because he is a school district employee. White is the track and field head coach for Meyers, and board member John Bergold recused himself because he has two children who are district employees.

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 — located across from Kistler on Old River Road in South Wilkes-Barre — is used for grades 7-12.

The school district plans to seek zoning approval for the new high school in August. It will allow the controversial merger of Coughlin and Meyers high schools.

The district wants to demolish Coughlin’s main building and annex and put the new high school on the 3.7-acre site, which is zoned for commercial use.

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

Panzitta Enterprises Inc. also may ask the zoning board in August to approve its plan to convert the Times Leader newspaper building, which is next to the Coughlin property, into a school facility. 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 more than $80 million, and the Kistler addition is projected at $15 million.

The hearing on the Kistler addition began two hours after the board started its meeting and ruled on other matters. The board rejected an unpopular request for a special exception to allow a nonconforming use for a convenience store with a state license to sell beer in the former Harrold’s Pharmacy building on Old River Road

School board member Ned Evans was one of the objectors to that request at the meeting. He said the convenience store could create problems for students who attend Meyers and Kistler.