PITTSTON — For more than a decade, Luzerne County Community College and the city have been collaborating on an educational campus in downtown Pittston.
That collaboration will soon be a reality after LCCC approved authorization to proceed with an educational center to the old M&T Bank at 3 S. Main St., according to Mike Lombardo, of the Pittston Redevelopment Authority. The city received a tax contribution from M&T Bank and will receive the building at no cost to the city.
Lombardo said negotiations have been ongoing since his second year as mayor of Pittston. He said LCCC will pay the city a monthly fee and all operation expenses of the building, which will be called the M&T Educational Center.
Lombardo said the project is expected to cost $1.5 million, funded by the Redevelopment Authority. Lombardo hopes the center can begin classes by January 2017. The building will be a taxable structure.
The 10,000 square-foot facility was most recently listed by Atlas Realty Inc. for $399,000, according to the company’s website.
The building will feature an addition where the drive-through of the bank is currently located. There will be a lounge area for students, as well as some “green space,” Lombardo said.
“This seems to be the year we are finishing projects that have been on the books for 15 years,” Lombardo said of the city. “We sat down with LCCC in (the late 1990s) but things change. We finally got this deal done. It’s important because it falls in line with the objectives for downtown.”
The Redevelopment Authority is using Williams Kinsman Lewis Architecture for the construction of the building.
According to LCCC President Thomas Leary, the board of trustees on Thursday authorized the college to proceed to discuss and finalize the agreement to establish the site in Pittston. Once the agreement is finalized, the city and college can move forward with the process.
“We’re very excited about it,” Leary said. “We have a great relationship in Pittston. The revitalization Pittston has had is truly remarkable. We’re excited about the possibility of an educational presence in an affordable and accessible way.”
Leary said the college will be meeting with officials soon to finalize the process.
According to Lombardo, LCCC expects about 200 students to go through the doors of the Main Street building on any given day, adding that will increase the downtown economic structure. There is also a possibility evening continuing education and adult classes will be offered.
“I believe that the cornerstone of the community is where you put value in education,” Lombardo said. “This is another gesture toward what we think about education and how it fits in the downtown.”
With a campus in downtown Pittston, the city and LCCC have already had discussions about parking. Lombardo believes there is no current parking problem, but there may be in five years. He mentioned the new 65-space lot behind the Pittston Memorial Library might serve as possible parking, with a lighted path leading to downtown.
The city is also considering spaces in the Upper Tomato Festival Lot.
“There’s going to be a real LCCC presence here,” Lombardo said.
Main Street Manager Atty. Rose Randazzo’s law office is next to the old M&T Bank site and she couldn’t be happier with the new addition to Main Street.
“It’s a game-changer,” she said. “This is really the ultimate goal to build the city so they would come and they are coming.”
According to a 2014 story in the Times Leader, Pittston and LCCC continued discussions and took a turn when LCCC decided to conduct a survey, accessible through a link on the city website. The 18-question survey sought general information about family size and income, as well as specific queries about interest in college, fields one would like to study and how a student would get to an LCCC site if one were located in the city.
At the time, LCCC spokeswoman Lisa Nelson said the college was “gathering information to determine the feasibility of opening a college site in Pittston” and the survey would “identify their educational needs.”
According to LCCC’s website, the college currently has off-campus centers in Berwick, Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton, Kulpmont and Northumberbland, as well as its main campus in Nanticoke. The student body is currently comprised 45 percent full-time, with 71 percent of those residing in Luzerne County. Credit enrollment for fall 2015 was just under 6,000. The school also has another 4,000 students enrolled in non-credit courses.
LCCC was founded in 1966. Originally, all students were enrolled at a campus in downtown Wilkes-Barre. In 1974, the college moved to its permanent 122-acre site in Nanticoke.
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick