WILKES-BARRE — Calling it a “pivotal moment” in the history of King’s College, school President Jack Ryan on Thursday announced a $16 million project to purchase and renovate the former Ramada Hotel on Public Square — saying it will become the home of the college’s physician assistant program and two others.
Ryan said construction will begin immediately. The college assumed ownership of the building on Wednesday, he said.
King’s purchased the property at 20 Public Square for $2.7 million.
“There have been many weddings, parties and dinners here,” Ryan said. “New memories will be made going forward — memories in teaching and learning at a state-of-the-art facility.”
The building also will house the exercise science program and the athletic training program. There will be classrooms, labs, offices and a bakery/cafe. More than 200 renderings by local artist Sue Hand will adorn the walls of the first floor, depicting the history of the anthracite mining industry.
Ryan said the third, fourth and fifth floors will be mothballed temporarily. The sixth through eighth floors will become the student housing.
“This project will have an immediate positive and sustainable impact on the city and the county,” Ryan said. “We project an economic impact of $2 million annually.”
Ryan said college students spend an average of $3,500 each year in the area. The project will create 20-plus new jobs at or near the college, he said.
Panzitta Enterprises of Wilkes-Barre will do the construction. Williams Kinsman Lewis Architecture P.C. is handling the architectural and engineering.
Kyle Kinsman, partner in the firm, gave a presentation on the project, complete with drawings of what the building will become. “At the top of the elevator tower, we will have a King’s College sign and shield,” Kinsman said. “It will be positioned so motorists coming down Coal Street will be able to see it lighting up the downtown.”
He said there will be a 150-person lecture hall, along with a gross anatomy lab and conference rooms.
Ryan said the college is underwriting the cost but there will be private and public fundraising campaigns to help offset the direct cost to King’s.
Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton, a King’s graduate, said the project opens a new chapter of progress for the downtown. The college will be preparing students to enter “the fertile job market” in the health care industry, he said.
“And King’s recognizes it is part of a broader community,” Leighton said. He said King’s will up its annual contribution to to the city to $72,500.
The former Keenan’s Pub will become laboratory space for the exercise science program, and the Tiffany Room will be transformed into the cafeteria, Kinsman said.
Ryan said the plan is to have the project completed for the opening of the 2014 fall semester. He said up to 200 students will be able to be housed in the building.
The college said there are 1,922 full-time undergraduate students at King’s. There are 97 students in first or second year of the professional phase of the physician assistant studies program and 245 enrolled in the five-year BS/MS pre-physician assistant studies majors.
John McAndrew, King’s spokesman, said earlier this month that the master’s portion has been expanded from 45 to 54 students this year. Of those 54, a maximum of 30 are students who receive their bachelor’s at another college and come to King’s for a two-year master’s program.
McAndrew said that King’s usually receives about 800 applications for those spots nationally. For this year’s incoming first-year class, normally 90 PA Studies majors are accepted; however, this year, King’s accepted 114.