With at least $590,000 in repair work looming, Coaldale borough council on Tuesday, by a split vote, agreed to try to sell its 87-year-old former borough high school, now known as the Coaldale Complex. Council also voted unanimously to demand a full financial disclosure for the past three years from the Coaldale Complex Committee, which operates the building for the borough.
The borough will continue to make the inexpensive temporary fixes recommended by engineers in order to keep the massive structure at Sixth and Phillips Street safe for the youngsters who attend the Carbon County HeadStart program on the first floor.
The vote to sell was 4-3. Councilman Andrew Girard moved to sell the building, with David Yelito supporting his motion. Council members Tom Keerans and Nancy Lorchak also voted in favor of selling, with Steve Tentylo, Joe Hnat and council President Sue Solt opposed.
The borough cannot afford the more than half-million dollars it would take to fix the building.
"Our backs are up against the wall financially," Keerans said. He said raising property taxes is not an option.
The sale offers the building along with a playground and one-third of the land.
Hnat initially proposed accepting no less than $300,000 for it. He said the building has been appraised at $360,000.
The decision to sell the old school, which opened in 1923 and closed in 1964, when the Panther Valley School District was formed, uniting high schools in Coaldale, Summit Hill, Nesquehoning and Lansford, was difficult for some. Solt urged council to set aside personal feelings and work together on the issue.
"Save the Tiger!" Tentylo, who attended the high school and serves as head of council's Complex Committee, implored a reporter after the meeting. The school's colors were orange and black, and its mascot a tiger.
Earlier in the meeting, resident Margaret Sullivan, who also attended the school, told council she was worried about a tax increase to pay for repair work, and suggested that selling it would be a better option. Sullivan said people would always have their memories of the school.
Later in the meeting, resident and former councilwoman Ann Girard implored council to sell the building, even if it has to offer it for a dollar to Pathstone, the company that administers the HeadStart program.
"I'll pay the buck," she said.
Solicitor Michael Greek said the law requires the borough to seek bids for the building; it cannot be "gifted."
Pathstone recently spent at least $175,000 to refurbish the first floor of the building to accommodate a new program. Bernetta Frantz, director of Children and Family Development Services for Pathstone attended the meeting, but aside from assuring Sullivan of the children's' safety, did not speak.
Keerans moved for the financial disclosure.
"I want to know where the money is going," he said. The Complex Committee collects rent from Pathstone and organizations that use the building. The money is meant to be used for repairs and maintenance. Keerans said council has asked for the information for years, but gets only "bits and pieces" from the committee.
The vote followed a lengthy discussion about the condition of the building and recent efforts to make it safer. The borough acquired the building in 1974, but it is operated by the Coaldale Complex Committee.
Engineers from Alfred Benesch & Co. inspected the building for safety on July 27. They found the building was safe, but the second floor has been substantially damaged by earlier roof leaks. The engineers in an Aug. 25 letter to council urged immediate action on four temporary safety measures: placing support scaffolding under two weakened second-floor roof arches to keep them stable and over exits to protect people from falling brick or stone, and removing stored items from a second-floor room.
But at a special public meeting on Sept. 29, engineer James D. Pudleiner took council to task for failing to act on the measures. Pathstone canceled classes for the next day until the scaffolding over the doors was in place.
The safety measures are being done by Coaldale Complex officials David Hnat and Harold Watkins and borough workers.
Councilman Joe Hnat called Pudleiner and engineer Gregory Kuklinski back on Oct. 7 to look at the building. They weren't happy with the progress.
"It wasn't up to snuff the way they wanted it done," Hnat said after the meeting.
In a letter written that same day to Solt, Pudleiner and Kuklinski reported that the stored items have been removed. However, that's where the good news stopped. The engineers listed three areas inside the building that were of immediate concern:
1. Temporary shoring for missing concrete arch roof joists in classroom 21 are not shored properly. Proper scaffolding should be placed immediately in classroom 21 to shore these joists immediately.
2. Temporary shoring for the three concrete arch roof joists in west corridor 28 have not been shored properly. The arch joists should be supported immediately with two 2 x 10 wooden-made 'H' shaped columns for each concrete joist.
3. The Pryobar blocks on east corridor 32 at the top corner of the doorway (inside corridor and inside library) should be removed to prevent them from falling. Pryobar is a fireproof building material.
"Since then, we did correct those actions in all three areas upstairs," Hnat said. "We have one more area to do, which is going to be taken care of starting at 7 a.m. (Wednesday)."
In a related matter, council voted to have two additional sets of keys made to the building, one for borough Supervisor Kenny Hankey and the other to be kept at borough hall. That way, workers would be able to gain access to start work early, Hnat said.
The outside of the building fared no better. Engineers advised that, in order to be able to remove the temporary-measure scaffolding, the borough would have to do a lot of work. However, council agreed the permanent repair work would be too expensive.
"We just can't afford it," Hnat said.
On the west side entrance, that would mean resetting the stone trim with stainless steel pins; replacing the lintels with galvanized steel angles; removing all debris and repointing the cracks in the bricks; filling in cracks and mortar joints with soft mortar and repointing large open masonry joints and encasing the former coal bin with a concrete slab.
On the south side, the cracks in the bricks above the playground have opened more than what engineers observed when they inspected the building on July 27. The playground has since been closed and fenced off.
On the east side of the building, scaffolding needs to be placed over new doors that have been installed, or the doors should be marked as for emergency use only. In addition, a temporary fence must be placed around the east side of the building to make sure no one gets close to it. Engineers noted that, in particular, the cracks in the brick in the northeast corner have gotten worse in the past few months and are in danger of falling down.