WILKES-BARRE — The new mascot for Wilkes-Barre Area School District’s unified sports teams?
Solar panels or windmills powering the new high school?
And when is the required state hearing on the high school going to be held?
Three men got nearly three hours of open-ended conversation with district Superintendent Brian Costello at his first “Coffee with the Superintendent” chat Wednesday. It was Costello’s revised effort to hold town hall-style meetings that let residents ask questions without the restraints of school board policy.
The first person to show up was Gerald Reisinger, and his topic was the imminent consolidation of all sports programs among the three high schools. If athletes who are current starters for their teams are forced to sit on the bench, he said, “tremendous passion could be lost.”
His solution: Expand sport choices, including lacrosse and rowing. He cited the Wyoming Seminary rowing team launched in 2015, and argued the “Wyoming Valley has a proud history of rowing” that has been lost.
He also suggested the new high school site, about 80 acres of land in Plains Township, would allow the district to set up a horticulture program, contending that was also something the region was well known for in the past.
Tom Dombroski broached the same topic he brought up at the last board session: the district’s low SAT scores, launching another debate about how income impacts standardized test scores. Dombroski seemed surprised when Costello said the recent graduating class had been offered about $10 million in college academic scholarships, and that some students graduate high school with a full year of college credits thanks to agreements with the county’s four institutions of higher education and high scores in Advanced Placement classes.
Steven Barrouk, a former official at the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, asked if the new school would be energy efficient, prompting Costello to cite one possible option if money allows: Solar panels on the roof of the natatorium. Barrouk suggested the site, in a large open stretch, could be ideal for windmills.
But Costello also conceded that, if bid proposals run higher than expected, the pool itself would “be one of the first things to go.” The building is expected to cost $100 million or more, and the board has authorized issuing bonds for up to $150 million.
Barrouk circled back to the sports merger and offered his own idea for a new mascot: a falcon, in recognition of the resurgence of peregrine falcons in this area. Costello said the district conducted a survey of students, asking for ideas for both a team mascot and team colors. He said there were about 1,000 different mascot suggestions “some silly, some very original,” but declined to give any information on the results of the survey because he has not shared them with the school board.
That could happen as early as Thursday night. The board has a meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m at the Solomon Plains Education Complex.
Costello said that meeting is primarily being held to set a date for a state-mandated Act 34 hearing on the new school. The 1973 law requires a public hearing for all new school construction and for school additions increasing a building’s size by more than 20 percent. A district must advertise an Act 34 hearing and allow at least 20 days for the public to review various documents, including design plans and cost estimates.
It’s important to distinguish between the sports merger for the three high schools — scheduled to occur next year — and the physical merger of all three schools into the new building, expected to open in 2021 at the earliest.
A few other ideas floated in the meeting:
• Naming rooms in the new building after the many people who have helped the district or graduated and went on to big accomplishments.
• Provide public transportation passes to all students, giving them greater flexibility in getting to district events, athletic games, or even non-district sites.
• Offering district facilities, including any pools and athletic tracks, for community use.
Costello hopes to hold at least two more such events, probably one in each of the next two weeks, though he has not finalized details.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish