WILKES-BARRE — John Wilkes — or more exactly a statue of him — stood off to the side clad in full graduation garb, a short distance from most of the people and construction equipment about to do some serious digging. Which proved Michael Wood’s promise that Monday’s groundbreaking of another $3.3 million in campus improvements was real, not just a show.
“In March we made a decision to find the next available sunny day to do this,” Wood, the special assistant to University President Patrick Leahy, said during opening remarks at the edge of the Fenner Quadrangle, “And eight weeks later, here we are at this not symbolic groundbreaking.”
Representatives from the University and area politicians took turns praising the project while men in safety vests waited nearby. Wood noted “we had to ask them to turn off their equipment” so the crowd of about 100 people could hear the comments, given at what is currently the end of the University’s “Gateway,” a wide, gray-stone walkway stretching from a parking garage on the east end of South main Street to the quadrangle.
The new project will extend the walk across the green way to a new entrance into the Stark Center, which itself is set for a major renovation into what Leahy called the “engineering innovation center.” The gray walkway will also be built between the Henry Student Center on South Street to southern entrance of the Stark Center.
Touting the University’s weekend commencements that conferred nearly 800 degrees, and noting that meant nearly1,600 degrees this academic year when the winter commencement is added, Leahy repeated his expectation that Wilkes will be re-dubbed as a small doctoral university soon in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Most of the degrees granted over the weekend, he added, were masters or doctorates.
University Board of Trustees Chairman Dan Cardell mentioned visitors from Canada, India and across America currently at Wilkes for a two-week “boot camp” on investment, and said he was proud to be able to show off the school, the city and the valley. “I’m very proud of the city,” he said, “I’m proud to introduce the University to people who have never been here.”
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Wilkes-Barre) praised his alma mater as the “school that created my whole life,” and State Sen. John Yudichak (D-Nanticoke) said the government funds that helped pay for the improvements are “an investment in family, and in community.”
The project is being paid for with a mix of university money and money from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. It is expected to be done by Aug. 22, Leahy said.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish