WILKES-BARRE — Lois Grimm conceded it was a small turnout — only seven or eight people stood outside Meyers High School at the designated start of a protest against school consolidation.
But those who came were passionate.
“I’m here for choice,” Danette Bielecki said as she waited for a planned march to the Wilkes-Barre Area School District administration building Thursday afternoon. “Consolidation is not good for the students. It’s less opportunity. I still believe it would be cheaper to repair these schools.”
Grimm had set up a Facebook page calling from three marches, one starting at each district high school: Meyers, Coughlin and GAR Memorial. The board initially voted to consolidate Meyers and Coughlin, but last month voted to add GAR to the mix, merging all three into a new building planned in Plains Township roughly near the intersection of Maffett and Main streets.
The turnout was light at Meyers, and if brief drive-bys were any gauge, non-existent at the other two schools. Grimm was undeterred.
“I’m just grateful it’s not just me and my son,” she said, nodding to Sam, who will be a freshman at Meyers this fall. “This school means a lot to me. I’ve had a member of my family graduate at least every decade from this school since it opened.”
All three schools are roughly a century old, and engineers contend they have decayed so badly from neglect that costs would be much higher than the estimated $100 million or more for a new consolidated school.
“Consolidation takes a lot away,” protester Susan Miller said, citing the value of having a neighborhood school most students could walk to.
The small Meyers contingent was met by a bigger crowd outside the administration building on South Main Street, though even then the numbers were in the low 20s. They held signs with slogans including “Listen to your voters” and “WBASD where is your regard for kids?”
One man held a sign referring to the cost of the new school property — expected to top $4 million plus more to mitigate environmental problems for a former industrial site — asking “and what do we get?” The sign answered: “a school property with arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, selenium, silver, all toxic.”
The site has undergone several mandated environmental studies and district officials say they are complying with all state Department of Environmental Protection requirements to build there.
Outside the administration building, the protesters milled and talked to media. A few students started a rousing chant of “Save our schools! Save our students!” But none entered the building in time to sit in on the school board’s work session meeting at 5:30, which preceded a 6:30 regular voting meeting. The topic at the work session: Traffic improvements mandated by PennDOT for the new school site.
Several of the protesters did attend the regular meeting, and Grimm committed her five allotted minutes for public comment to read 20 questions people had proposed after she solicited questions via Facebook.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish