PA board votes to close Kindergarten Center

First Posted: 7/11/2013

School dismissed.

Incoming kindergarteners to Pittston Area will now start school in the Primary Center after the school board voted Thursday night to close the Ben Franklin Kindergarten Center in Dupont.

The board voted 7-1 in favor of the closure, with Joe Kelly casting the lone “no” vote. He said the rush to close the building was his main concern.

“There was no time to prepare, it was a complete rush,” Kelly said. “I didn’t think it was fair to the kids, the parents or the staff. “

He said he understands the building needs to close, but he wanted more time.

“We don’t have the money to put into the building, but the engineer, the expert we spoke to, said we could safely get another year out of the building,” he said. “We should have waited a year and done it right.”

An engineer has said that within the next year or two, the roof, carpeting, HVAC, electrical system and fire alarm system all need to be upgraded at a cost of $1 million to $1.5 million. A full renovation of the school would cost $4.2 million to $5.8 million.

Superintendent Michael Garzella said the district has already begun the transition process after the public hearing in April. Students underwent orientation at the end of the school year.

Teachers can immediately enter the building and arrange for their classrooms to be transferred, Garzella said, if they haven’t already done that.

Board members Charles Sciandra, Kent Bratlee, Bruce Knick, Marilyn Starna, Bob Linskey, Richard Gorzkowski and John Donahue voted in favor of the closure. Tony Guariglia was absent.

Donahue compared the closure to when the Pittston Area School District was formed. Boards in Duryea, Jenkins Township and other towns had to close their schools to form the current district, but a “great school district” was formed.

“This is a sad day, but it’s an important day,” Donahue said. “There’s a lot of repairs to be done there, and we do have excellent facilities at the Primary Center.”

Gorzkowski voted yes and urged the administration to use the savings in a “proper way.” Starna voted yes and hoped the savings would help offset the district’s deficit.

Garzella said all the teachers have been assigned classrooms. Some of the teachers have moved their things.

“They’re already starting to get their classrooms ready for the new school year” Garzella said. “Maintenance is already starting to move the bigger things like smart boards. The transition is going smoothly.”

He said any useful times will be reallocated.

“Cafeteria items are being moved to other cafeterias in the district,” he said. “So is shelving, counters, cookers. If anything is good, we’ll use it”

The board will have to make a decision on the future of the building. Garzella said he would recommend selling it as soon as possible to avoid any additional cost of keeping an empty building, such as heat in the colder months and grass and snow maintenance.

Stanley Knick, president of Dupont Council, said there is a need for senior housing in the borough and urged the district to turn over the building to the borough. The cash-strapped borough would unlikely be able to pay any considerable amount of money for the property.

“That’s a decision the board will have to make in the months to come,” Garzella said. “Is there value in the land and the building, for someone to take it over and renovate it or demolish it and rebuild? I would say yes. There’s value in the property. It’s close to everything, the airport, the highways.”

The current plan would be to close the Kindergarten Center and relocate the kindergarten students to the Primary Center in Hughestown, which would then become the home to kindergarten and first grade. The second-graders would move to the Intermediate Center, which would then house second, third and fourth grades.

The fifth-graders would move to the adjoining Middle School, which would then handle fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade. Grades five and six would be housed on the first floor of the Middle School and grades seven and eight would be housed on the second floor.

In other business, the board:

• Voted to look into adding a district director of security. Currently, the board plans to hire an administrator to oversee human resources, federal grants and security. But Kelly said the position should be pulled out as a standalone position.

• Discussed outside organizations using school district facilities, including Cefalo Building. Board members questioned how much organizations are charged and discussed if particular organizations should be charged at all if they have district children in them.

Fees, said Garzella said, are primarily for security and janitorial/maintenance.

Board members said they would like to see a policy with updated fees. The fee schedule on the books hasn’t been updated in decades.

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