Back to the future for W-B Area school site

By Mark Guydish - [email protected]

WILKES-BARRE — It was one of the original sites considered for a new consolidated high school planned by the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board, and was rejected because of land acquisition costs and possible extra cost to prepare the soil for a school that big. Now it’s the first choice.

When the board voted 7-2 Wednesday to narrow the review for a possible school site, they picked the “original Pagnotti site,” so dubbed because it was one of seven sites reviewed in a 2014 study, which included the options of building the new consolidated school on the current locations of Coughlin High, Meyers High or district-owned property at the Solomon/Plains Memorial Education Complex.

At the time, the board voted to build where Coughlin sits, citing the fact the soil was stable, utilities available, and it wouldn’t require purchasing land. By comparison, the Pagnotti site accepted Wednesday would cost money to buy and require extra site-preparation work because there may be mine land beneath it, and because of soil issues from prior industrial use.

Yet after the Wilkes-Barre zoning board denied a needed variance for the Coughlin site, the Pagnotti parcel rose to the top of the list among four sites put up for possible board approval — including 50 acres Geisinger Health System offered to donate at no cost.

Why pick the “original Pagnotti site?”

Before the vote, Board Member Joe Caffrey said it is the one site under consideration where some students may still be able to walk to school, plus it was the only site where the district could be sure it would get state reimbursement for construction costs.

That’s because it falls under the district’s original submission for the reimbursement program known as PlanCon. The district cannot be sure any of the other sites up for consideration would be eligible, in large part because the embattled PlanCon system is under a moratorium declared by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Without PlanCon reimbursement, estimated construction cost at the Pagnotti site ranged from $111 million to $130 million, making it about as costly as the other three sites, which were estimated at a low of $104 million to a high of $135 million. Total cost at the Geisinger site, even with the land donation, ranged from $110 million to $135 million.

But deduct PlanCon reimbursement estimated as high as $12 million from the Pagnotti cost, and the price range drops: $101 million to $118 million — the lowest estimate range among the four sites. Estimates for two of those sites did not include site acquisition costs.

The high school itself is estimated at $72 million to $82 million for all four sites, though in all cases that does not include any new stadium or athletic fields, which were depicted in architect renderings released before this week’s vote.

“Soft costs,” such as architect and engineering fees, and “Furniture, Fixture and Equipment” costs are estimated at a combined total ranging from $19 million to $24 million at all four sites.

“Off-site construction,” which covers traffic improvements and utility extensions, was estimated as high as $4 million for one site and as high as $7 million for two others, including the Geisinger lot. At the Pagnotti site, the estimate was $2 million to $3 million.

The bottom line to the bottom line: Even with $4 million in estimated site acquisition costs at the original Pagnotti site, state reimbursement of up to $12 million knocked it down to the lowest estimate among the four sites. None of the other sites, including the Geisinger land, had a state reimbursement figure calculated into the final estimate.

By Mark Guydish

[email protected]

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish