WILKES-BARRE — As students find themselves taking wide detours to get into Coughlin High School and the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board schedules a special meeting Thursday sure to include discussions about possible repairs to the century-old edifice, veteran district watchers may have an acute case of deja vu.
The condition of the building has been a regular agenda item for years. In fact Superintendent Bernard Prevuznak cited external structural concerns raised in a 2009 study as one reason for multiple precautions springing up around the school.
Those precautions include a fence around three sides of the building creating several feet of no-man’s land, single door access on the side where the entry is already protected by an overhead walkway connecting the school to the newer annex and soon-to-be erected scaffolding that will allow the district to safely reopen the front sidewalk, main entrance and the side entrance facing Union Street.
All this from what started as an almost casual-sounding suggestion months ago by board member Dino Galella, who asked for an inspection of the parapet, an historic source of concern since at least 2009 when a piece of it crashed down near a service entrance door, prompting the study.
When that inspection was recently conducted, some “caulking” missing from parts of the masonry as well as places “where some of the bricks look pushed out from the parapet directly over the courtyard” were discovered. The district closed the school library, the only area immediately at risk if anything should fall, and brought in a structural engineer.
The engineer pointed out additional flaws “in caulking in one corner of the building,” Prevuznak said. Around the same time, the district’s construction management firm, Apollo Inc., mentioned the 2009 study.
“Having looked through that report there were some issues of concern,” Prevuznak said, quickly stressing that “nothing has fallen, there is no evidence of anything crumbling, there is no ceiling falling.”
The district brought back the engineer who had done the 2009 study and he found additional missing caulking. The main areas of concern are the parapet on the roof and a cornice-like ledge jutting out several feet below that, Prevuznak said, where gaps in caulking have allowed water to seep into the limestone.
Prevuznak said he expects the scaffolding to start going up Thursday allowing the district to reopen the entrances and the sidewalk.
Prevuznak stressed the building is still safe for students inside and all the measures taken are strictly precautionary.