Coaldale Borough Council on Tuesday reversed an earlier decision to sell the Coaldale Complex.
The 2-5 vote to keep the massive, 87-year-old former Coaldale High School followed pleas from Pathstone Head Start parents and staff to keep the building, at Sixth and Phillips streets. Councilmen David Yelito and Tom Keerans opposed keeping the building. Council members Joe Hnat, Andrew Girard, Nancy Lorchak, Steve Tentylo and president Sue Solt voted in favor of keeping it.
On Oct. 12, council had voted 4-3, with Tentylo, Hnat and Solt opposed, to sell it because it needs about $590,000 in repairs, money the borough does not have. The building has been damaged by years of roof leaks and neglect. Borough structural engineers say the building is safe now that interim fixes have been made, including installing scaffolding over doors and under roof supports, and removing items stored on the second floor, which has borne the brunt of the roof leak damage.
Officials from Pathstone, the organization that administers the Carbon County Head Start program, offered to help the borough obtain grants to make permanent repairs to the building, and to serve on the Coaldale Complex Commission, an independent entity appointed by the borough to operate the building, which is owned by the borough.
Council has had issues with the commission, most notably with the commission's reluctance to reveal financial details, such as how much rent it collects and how it uses the money.
Council held an executive session on Tuesday to discuss the commission, but took no action after returning to the public meeting.
Resident Paul Coppie, who has a grandchild in the Head Start program, urged council to reverse its vote to sell the building.
"I don't believe that you made the right decision, and I would like to ask you to rescind your vote and vote again," he said. "I believe it's going to cost you more to sell that building than it would to keep it."
He said the borough would have to repay the hundreds of thousands of dollars obtained by Pathstone in the past seven years to refurbish and repair the building if it was sold. Coppie and Lorchak disagreed about who would be responsible. Lorchak said a federal grant coordinator she was referred to by Congressman Tim Holden told her it would be Pathstone's responsibility while Coppie believes it would fall on the borough, because that's who owns it.
"The residents would have to pay that back," he said. "You'd have to raise taxes to pay that back."
Council heard next from Kay Washington, Senior Executive Director for Pathstone in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
"It is our Head Start program, and we did put money into the building," she said. Washington has been "meeting with parents, and they would, and we would like, to stay there. Not only would we like to stay, we would like to give an assist in writing some grants, on behalf of the building, to fix it up. We want a pretty building, one that the parents feel proud to bring their children to."
Beth Jaharias Zinkand, Senior Director, Child and Family Development Administration for Pathstone said the organization hired its own structural engineer, who said the building was safe after precautionary measures had been taken. She said there were four recommendations made by the engineer, which Pathstone met before allowing children back into the building. Zinkand gave the borough a copy of the engineer's report.
Washington said the program plans further services, including those for older children and teenagers, and she wants to know where the rent money is going and what repairs are to be made.
"It's safe now, but what about the future?" she asked.
She also said some parents believe the borough wants the program out.
Mayor Richard Corkery, who with Yelito has been the driving force behind questioning the safety of the building, said the borough wants the program to stay.
Borough Fire Chief Richard Marek said the second floor of the building looks bad, but is safe.
"That second floor has been in that shape for the past 20 years. I said it before and I'll say it again: It's cosmetic," he said.
Girard then moved to rescind the vote to sell the building. Later, he moved to appoint Coppie and Pathstone officials to the Complex Commission. Washington said she would be willing to serve.
A Head Start parent and a staff member spoke with council about how the program has helped their own children learn to value education.