WILKES-BARRE — The Wilkes-Barre Area School Board held a special meeting Thursday to consider buying or renting scaffolding to protect pedestrians at Coughlin High School, but a funny thing happened on the way to a vote: Turned out they already own some, saving as much as $50,000.
The board was also poised to spend about $12,000 on fencing that had been erected around Coughlin after inspections found concerns about pieces of the parapet, cornice and even limestone panels coming loose and crashing down, but Board Member Christine Katsock, who pointed out the district owned scaffolding, said that expense could be avoided as well.
Katsock said a former board member owned fencing and had loaned it for free to district at Meyers, and would do so again for Coughlin.
The district purchased scaffolding years ago to protect students and staff while repairs were done to the Meyers roof and parapet, Katsock said. Afterwards, it was disassembled and stowed away. With that news, the board changed direction, agreeing to a proposal by solicitor Ray Wendolowski to have the district construction management firm, Apollo Inc., solicit quotes from companies on the cost of erecting the district scaffolding at Coughlin.
Katsock also noted a study of the Coughlin exterior in 2009, done after part of the parapet fell to the ground, found multiple problems and recommended both a short-term and long-term fix, urging the long-term repairs be “undertaken within four years.”
Katsock asked if there were any other such reports with similar recommendations that had not been followed. “If there are other ones I suggest we pay attention to them,” she said.
Superintendent Bernard Prevuznak also told the board a similar inspection of the parapet at Meyers found one possible hazard above the boiler room, and that it was fenced off, though he added that is not an area students use.
Katsock did not name the former board member who owns fencing, but asked after the meeting, she confirmed it was Frank Pizzella Jr. Pizzella had a background in construction he frequently used in questioning contractors and repair costs when on the board.
In September 2009, Pizzella was charged by federal prosecutors with passing a bribe from a teacher candidate to a sitting board member. Pizzella was not on the board at the time of the bribe. He initially pleaded not guilty and insisted he had helped investigators in other corruption cases, but ultimately signed a plea deal in February, 2010 and served five months home confinement.
The board also voted unanimously, again at Wendolowski’s suggestion, to have Apollo contact three previously approved companies and seek quotes on a new study of the three high schools, including a feasibility report on repairs or the construction of a new school suggesting up to five potential sites.
The board has been down this road before, paying for a similar study and proposal in 2002 and again in 2008. Each time no final decision was made, thanks to estimates that ran into tens of millions and public outcry over suggested closure of any of the three schools.