WILKES-BARRE — The storied history of Coughlin High School, a downtown landmark since 1909, begins its final chapter with the start of 2016.
Barring unexpected changes, grades nine and 10 will move into the newly renovated Mackin Elementary building when classes resume Jan. 4, while students in higher grades will be confined to the newer annex of the old school.
“The main building will shut down when we come back,” Superintendent Bernard Prevuznak said, noting engineers have warned the risk of serious problems at Coughlin will increase dramatically once the freeze and thaw cycles of winter set in.
“We’ve been extremely lucky in regards to the weather we’ve had,” Prevuznak said. “We don’t know what havoc the first snow is going to cause with the current structure of the building.”
The school board borrowed $9 million to renovate Mackin, shuttered since 2002, initially as a potential dual-purpose building, serving temporarily as a high school for half the Coughlin students while a new school is built on the existing site, then as an elementary school.
Recently, school board members and district officials have increasingly talked of turning Mackin into a high school specializing in the STEM subjects — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. “It’s the most state-of-the-art building we have right now,” Prevuznak said.
Structural engineers hired by the district have warned for years Coughlin is at risk of falling facade pieces and brick work. Extensive support work was done in 2014 to keep the older part of the building secure, but safety sheds were placed at the entrances and perimeter fencing set up.
Prevuznak said moving the students should cause little disruption because the district had planned for the possibility before school started this year. “Eleventh and 12th grades primarily use the annex now,” he said.
Director of Curriculum and Instruction Brian Costello said the enrollment will be split evenly, with about 500 students each at the Mackin building and the annex. When classes and room assignments were set up for this year, “all ninth- and 10th-grade students and teachers were put in one area of our main building.
“When we do make the move, there will be no change in teacher or student schedules,” Costello added. “We’re just picking up one side of Coughlin and moving them.”
The new entrance for Coughlin will be the large entrance on the annex facing Washington Street, the one used by the public for sporting events at the gym.
Woodworking and industrial shops posed a small problem, Costello said, because the current shops are in the older section of Coughlin. The solution: move the classwork more toward the computer side of such lessons.
“We’re basically trying to work it into a sort of digital shop,” Costello said, which is increasingly a part of the business anyway. When students need to use special equipment, the opportunities will be arranged at Coughlin.
Students studying hands-on industries also have the option of attending the Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technical Center, Prevuznak added.
“The biggest thing for us was labs,” Costello said, which had been in the Coughlin main building. “So we moved our science labs over the summer to the annex.”
The printing press for the school newspaper — one of the oldest student-run publications in the country — has also been moved, Costello said. Band practice, chorus and drama activities all will be held in the annex, though teachers and advisers also have the option of practicing in the Mackin gym/auditorium.
Ask where plays or other public shows would be held, Costello said GAR Memorial High School “has not had a drama club the past couple of years, so we were able to use that stage.”
Any other extra-curricular activities that involve multiple grades will continue to be held in the Coughlin Annex the last period of the day, Costello said, with transportation provided from Mackin.
Graduation ceremonies will not be impacted by the closing of the main building — which includes the auditorium, because, in recent years, Coughlin commencement ceremonies have been held at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts.
While there has been plenty of public opposition to the school board’s decision to consolidate Coughlin and Meyers High schools in a new building at the Coughlin site, few have questioned the need to get students out of the older Coughlin structure.
At a Dec. 9 meeting of Save Our Schools — a group pushing to keep the three high school system in the district — parent and Coughlin grad Nina Centi said she would like to see the building saved but “it’s just not feasible.”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish