WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Maybe nobody noticed they were gone because they were hard to see in the first place: In the back of the parking lot, next to the unused school bus fleet.
It’s those rusty things that look like dirt among the overgrown weeds.
You likely wouldn’t see the pieces of unused scaffolding unless you parked the car and walked around. And that’s no problem, if you want to amble about.
There’s a fence with an open a gate that looks utterly unusable at one access point, no fencing elsewhere. There are no security cameras, or even people likely to notice your approach.
Wilkes-Barre Area School District is looking into the apparent disappearance of about 60 scaffold frames purchased in 2010 and stored near the old Wilkes-Barre Township High School. The site is nestled between Interstate 81 and a short access road connecting Route 309 to Northampton Street.
The scaffolding was purchased for $18,000 after years of rental from Patent Construction Co. to protect pedestrians during parapet repairs at Meyers High School. Yet when the School Board recently started looking for prices on new scaffolding for similar protective service at Coughlin High School, no one on the board even new the district already owned about 88 scaffold frames and accompanying base plates, pins and aluminum beams.
A visit to the site where they were stored found no barriers to reaching the scaffolding, unless you consider visual obscurity a problem. The scaffold frames rested on wooden pallets next to a small retired bus fleet the district is selling, along with a large piece of graying plywood, an old wheelbarrow and what looks like a fiberglass dinosaur riding toy from a school playground.
It’s all amid tall weeds near a treeline buffering the school property from the interstate.
There were about half-a-dozen pallets laying on the ground with nothing on them, suggesting, at least theoretically, that more scaffold frames were there some time in the past.
When School Board member Christine Katsock questioned what happened to the missing scaffold frames at a meeting Tuesday, she noted Patent Construction had volunteered to transport the frames from Meyers to the old high school in 2010, but no paperwork exists to confirm they were received.
There’s also no explanation why they were stored outside. They rest at one corner of a small parking lot. Across the lot is a large delivery door and dock. Asked why no room could be found in the building for storage, Superintendent Bernard Prevuznak said he did not know.
Prevuznak said Buildings and Grounds Director John Chiemento has begun looking through district property — including athletic fields adjacent to the old school — to make sure the scaffolding wasn’t simply moved rather than stolen.
But Prevuznak said that search had just begun Wednesday with limited progress.
The former high school still houses maintenance and transportation offices and is used as a central depot and storage/clearing house for any purchases that aren’t shipped directly to schools, Prevuznak said. The fields are still used by high school students for some sports, he added.
Katsock said she would ask the Luzerne County district attorney to launch an investigation, and on Wednesday School District Solicitor Ray Wendolowski said that if the frames can’t be found — many of the aluminum beams were still stacked against a school wall — a police investigation clearly would be warranted. A call to the District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday afternoon was not returned.
After learning most of the scaffolding was missing, the board voted Tuesday to have a contract drawn up for emergency installation of new scaffolding at Coughlin, where concerns about the risk of falling pieces of parapet, cornice and limestone prompted the district to fence off a perimeter and restrict access to a side entrance protected by an overhead enclosed walkway connecting the school to a newer annex.
Prevuznak said Wednesday the district is working on getting new protective scaffolding up as quickly as possible so the front sidewalk and two closed entrances can be reopened. But he found himself dealing with another unexpected problem.
Rampant rumors surfaced Wednesday that the school would be closed today due to the risk of structural problems. Prevuznak vigorously denied them, insisting the school will remain open through June 11 graduation and the final day of classes for students on June 12.
“The school will be open,” Prevuznak said. “It’s as simple as that. It’s done.”