May 29, 2015
****** PRESS RELEASE ******
Bill Crawford writes: when 'Being Rushed' is the problem . . . rushing is never the solution." Just because officials think they have done enough planning does not mean they have a workable plan.
And so, here we are again with a more pressing high school building crisis. With a few thousand people at the LCCC graduation at the same time as the meeting on the schools (great timing) on May28, I am sure there would have been at least one more person in attendance than the 100 who thankfully cared enough to make the meeting. I was at the graduation and I would not have missed it for the world.
What I get out of it is a sense that Governor Tom Wolfe is now running our School Board. The Governor has decided that Wilkes-Barre must play by his rules or else no money. This bullying from a foreign power makes this whole thing a charade and not a community decision. It does not matter what the board president suggests. The people are getting forced into a rush mentality so somebody can please Tom Wolfe. I would prefer to sue the Governor for whatever we think we are due for whatever we choose to do --repair or build, rather than have Harrisburg dictate what happens in NEPA.
This is a ram a new school down the public's throat approach because of money and because even with a zillion maintenance personnel, our school district leaders have not maintained the school properties appropriately. Will they maintain a new school any better? Can we trust them with a new school? What will they do differently that we should invest over $100 million to their good nature?
By the way, do we send our children to school to learn about subjects and life in general or do we send them to school so that we can afford the school buildings? Is money the only consideration? Where is the will to do the right thing? Sean Walker is the smartest guy on the School board. His question is the only one that counts: "if money was not an issue, what would we do for the kids? Has anybody answered that question yet?
Dr. Mark Schiowitz, who was once on the Board, and who should be on the School Board, at the meeting, urged the Board to keep the three smaller schools as "students learn best in high schools of less than 1000 students." Why did Walker's and Schiowitz's ideas not get more traction? Why are we in such a rush to do the wrong thing?
Never let a good crisis go to waste! The public may not always be willing to pay for good planning but if politicians can create a crisis-- real or perceived, a good-hearted public can be more easily manipulated into rushing into bad decisions. Often power brokers make their decisions and then shape the facts to support their choice-- not necessarily for the good of the public. Did the board make a decision to rip down the schools before all of the analyses even began? I surely don't know the answer but it appears that there is no will to reevaluate this destructive idea. Who are we kidding here? Why does the board want to build before it even knows what it will build?
How did WB Area come from deciding what to do about the three existing high schools to almost definitely preparing to build a new consolidated high school And, by the way, all of us know that if a new school were to be built, the best locale would be the Murray Complex. And so this site was summarily eliminated from consideration. Hah!
The reality is that anybody not staring greedily at Tom Wolfe's big pocketbook would conclude that building a new Plasticville model 25-year duration school is not the answer. Hey for young officials, in 25 years, they would get to create a new crisis and build a new school again!
In December, I spelled out the best plan for the School District. It would cost one to two million dollars per year. Yet, not one person asked me about it in the six months since it was published. I even made "Save our Schools," one of my campaign initiatives in my losing bid for Mayor of Wilkes-Barre to again bring it to the minds of the public and the school officials. Yet, nobody asked me about it one time during the duration of the campaign.
When nobody seeks real input from those with opposing views it typically means the fix is in. This fix will fix it real good for Wilkes-Barre once again. Real good! Does anybody really care? Taxpayers and parents ought to be incensed at what is happening. It is our money and our children's lives these presbyopic leaders are toying with.
One thing we should not do is let Tom Wolfe bully us into making a decision too quickly. We know that haste makes waste; and we are about to waste some wonderful and historically significant school traditions and school buildings. Moreover, in the process it seems we are willing to sacrifice the opportunity for our children to attend smaller and better run schools and be better educated and be happier than in bully-prone mega schools.
Think of all of the kids from Larksville, and Newport, and Swoyersville, and Plymouth, who because of the huge Wyoming Valley West jointure never got to play high school sports or who never got to be a big fish in a small pond or get to see how their voice matters in a setting of their peers. Is this what we really want?
By the way. Do we really know what we want? Where is the education plan? Where is the quality of life plan for the school children? Where is the best option plan?
Where there's a will, there is a way. We can surely build anything we want. We must first know what we want. Don't let them kid you? It starts with dreams, and then ideas, and then plans, and then, and only then does it move to action. Why is nobody dreaming about the ideal situation for Wilkes-Barre Area, the School Children, and the Taxpayers?
For now, we must decide what our will is in this debacle? My suggestion is that we had better stop this poorly planned project and do some real planning before we take another step in any direction. No immediate decision is always better than a bad decision. Let's not be bullied by the big bad Wolf!
*** End of Press Release ***
Brian Kelly's solution to high school crisis as written with update from December 2014
Special landmarks do not have to be destroyed
The fixes required for WBA School District high schools have been depicted as un-affordable by taxpayersregardless of the approach -- fix it or demolish and build it again cheaper. I don't think so. I don't buy it. It would have been interesting if the numbers and "plans" had been presented at Wednesday's meeting [In December 2014] along with the impact on millage. We all know the school district has not been a tax bargain for local taxpayers. [Build or not the Board plans another millage increase this year] More importantly for all of us living in Wilkes-Barre Area, the question should be, "Do we really want to destroy historically important well-built school buildings and replace them with cheap quality twenty-five year models?"
Wilkes-Barre High was established in 1890. It later was renamed Coughlin High after GAR opened in 1925. This old Coughlin school building is in fact the oldest public high school building in Pennsylvania. Can you believe some people want to tear down the oldest public school building in the State? The Coughlin Annex structure was built in 1952. The original Coughlin building was occupied in 1909 though construction had begun much earlier. Citizens of Wilkes-Barre Area need to get involved and think about what is being proposed and we must ask ourselves if there are not better ways to solve this problem without doubling our already un-affordable school tax burden.
In March, 2005 Cliff Greim wrote an excellent piece titled New Construction vs. Renovation for Older School Facilities. Though ten years old, it still covers the issue quite well. It is available for all to read at http://www.facilitiesnet.com/educationalfacilities/article/School-Choice-Build-New-or-Not--2639#
Greim offers readable counsel on the big decision for WBASD:
"Generally, schools built in the 1950s or earlier have impressive architectural character and often are fixtures in their neighborhoods. They are structurally sound and can accommodate new systems. In addition, there is often strong sentiment to keep them in some form.
"Newer schools built in the 1960s and 70s generally lack architectural character, are not energy-efficient and are constructed of cheaper materials. These get torn down more often or become hand-me-down conversions from high schools to junior highs or from junior highs to elementary schools."
All of the buildings in question were built post 1950 other than the Coughlin Annex, which was built in 1952. I think it is safe to say that the same logic Greim discusses for pre-1950 buildings applies to the Coughlin Annex.
I admit I was taken back by board members at last night's meeting who said, "It's going to cost a lot but it's something we have to do." I would ask whether they would vote to tear down historic Independence Hall if it were within their responsibility back in 1860 when it was just over 100 years old. It helps to know that at that time, this famous Philadelphia structure was about the same age as Coughlin is right now?
We all know that Independence Hall is the birthplace of America. We also know that the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both debated and signed inside this remarkable building. Independence Hall was built between 1732 and 1756 to be the Pennsylvania State House. It still stands and thrives. Why can Philadelphia preserve a monument and Wilkes-Barre cannot?
Originally, this building housed all three branches of Pennsylvania's colonial government. Yes, it was built even before the USA became the USA. It is now two and a half times older than Coughlin High School and it has a lot of life left. Think of the famous graduates of Coughlin, GAR, and Meyers, and think of all the memorable events at those schools. These buildings are special landmarks in our home area, and they do not have to be destroyed.
GAR is almost ninety years old and Meyers is the baby at 85 years of age. Why would we give up these historically significant well built structures and replace them with thirty-year throwaway square buildings made of sheet metal, plastic, and other cheap materials? We have historical buildings with grand designs, granite and limestone interiors, and exquisite stained glass auditoriums. Who are we to cast this all away so that in twenty years another study like this can be done as we rip out the structures to be built and go with even cheaper buildings with twenty-year lifetimes or perhaps a modular school or a few trailers.
Where there is a will, there is a way. Somehow we lost our will with the Sterling after spending $6 million without fixing the roof. Let's keep our will and our wits as the board tries to shove a huge millage increase our way... for a less desirable outcome than the status quo.
One off-hand suggestion I have is to allocate about a million dollars or two or perhaps three if we can afford it. We can bring in a great building contractor from our area to allocate five or ten artisans just for WBA, to begin work on these buildings, one year at a time, one objective at a time. Let's get the hazards out of the way first. When real emergencies occur in the other buildings, we can dispatch this crew of experts along with WBA maintenance personnel to fix the problems post haste.
I would also use our political representatives to get waivers for the beams that can withstand lateral forces. This is a very costly undertaking and should be ruled out immediately. Clearly all of the WBA buildings in question have not been blown over by big puffs of wind in the 85 to 105 years in which they have been standing and they are not going to be blown over tomorrow or any time soon. I would also try to get waivers for increasing the physical size of the classrooms. They seem big enough to have been able to be used for conducting classes for many years and surely they could continue to be used. Waivers would save a lot of money and they are practical and safe.
I would bet that the local and state historical societies would help in gaining the waivers. How can we consider destroying such history for a promise we know will be broken thirty years from now. After all citizens make the laws. If the laws do not fit, waivers are a good way to save money and still have the benefits of a safe school.
When all the emergencies are fixed, I would put the new team of artisans to work on one floor at a time of one building at a time. I would use as many vocational students to help in the effort as possible. Think of the training they would get. Additionally, Wilkes-Barre Area also has a lot of maintenance personnel, who I bet would love to learn new skills working with the best artisans in the valley in building, plumbing, electrical, carpentry and other endeavors. Where there is a will, there is a way. Nothing in life truly worth having is easy. Why give up the best for a solution that may not even be good enough to be second-best?
Who is Brian Kelly?
Brian Kelly is a former IBM Senior Systems Engineer and college professor. Kelly ran for office recently so that Wilkes-Barre could have a Mayor from outside the current political system. Kelly's campaign platform included making the city more open and friendly to business and making Wilkes-Barre a safe, affordable and clean city. Brian Kelly and his many ideas for a better city were soundly defeated on May 19, 2015.