NANTICOKE — Walking through a kitchen in the Luzerne County Community College Culinary Arts Institute, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley watched students baking cakes, preparing burgers and learning about the price of select cuts of steak. For Cawley, the cooking odors were the smell of success.
Since 2006, about $13.3 million in state funding has been allocated to projects in the city, much of it for building projects on the LCCC campus, and on Wednesday state officials toured Nanticoke and the college to see the impact of those funds.
Cawley said government must remember the money it puts out in the form of grants comes from the taxpayers, and officials need to be sure that the money is being spent wisely. Walking the halls of the college classroom buildings and seeing the students benefiting from those grants was a good experience for him.
“It’s very clear to me this is money well spent,” he said. “Seeing the work being done here at the community college, it’s truly inspirational to see so many people with hope and optimism.”
Among the places he toured were the Health Sciences Building, which houses the Benco Dental Clinic, and the Joseph A. Paglianite Culinary Arts Institute that, in addition to the full-service bakery and kitchen, also houses the Kowalski Auditorium, a state-of-the-art, high-definition television studio.
For LCCC President Tom Leary, the buildings and programs are proof that state and private funding initiatives are making a difference in communities such as Nanticoke.
Leary noted that, through the two new buildings, the school has been able to educate students in two of the “most in-demand industries in the county, health sciences and culinary arts.”
State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, who acted as a local historian on the tour, told Cawley what decrepit structures used to stand vacant on lots now bustling with students and city residents.
The culinary arts building is on a property that once housed the former Susquehanna Coal Co. building, which Yudichak noted “was vacant my entire life.”
He said Nanticoke, which at its height was home to 35,000 residents, declined over time as the coal companies left and other business and industries closed shop. Today the city has just 10,000 citizens.
“We were left with hollowed-out buildings,” Yudichak said. “We had to change.”
And with the help of state, county and private funding, the city is changing. The transformation is most apparent downtown and the community college’s expansion to that part of the city in recent years is the poster child for that evolution.
James Kolinansky was shopping at the nearby Weis market as the lieutenant governor was taking a driving tour of the city.
Kolinansky said the city has certainly made strides, though “much work still needs to be done.”
“It’s a heck of a lot better now than it was even five years ago, but there’s still vacant buildings, not much here after dark, but they’re trying,” he said. “I hope the state helps more. It’s making a difference.”
Though Yudichak, Leary and others said more will be done, Wednesday was about showing Cawley and officials from the state Department of Community and Economic Development what has been done and not just through pictures or letters or press releases.
LCCC Dean of Nursing and Health Sciences Deborah Vilegi-Peters said the chance to walk Cawley through the buildings and classrooms and have him see students hard at work on equipment or in labs that wouldn’t exist without state funding is imperative.
“They can actually see the environment the students are learning in and how they’re benefiting from their funding,” Vilego-Peters said.
And that’s why Yudichak wanted Cawley and other state officials to see Nanticoke this week.
“Lt. Gov. Cawley’s here to celebrate our success,” Yudichak said.