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LIU considers move, decides on repairs

Officials looked into using closed Catholic school, but instead chose to get new roof.

PLAINS TWP. – If you’ve heard rumors that the Luzerne Intermediate Unit was considering moving its Alternative Learning Center – a school for students with behavioral problems – to a shuttered Catholic school near you, it’s probably true.

Faced with a leaky roof and other woes at the Plains Township location, officials have mulled such a change.

But it hasn’t worked out.

Most former elementary schools are too small for the burgeoning center, which needs at least 16 classrooms for about 180 students. And the former Seton Catholic High School was too close to Pittston’s downtown for the LIU’s liking.

Instead, the LIU will spend $115,000 on a new roof and seek grant money to help with other renovations.

“There’s a community interest,” said LIU Executive Director Michael Ostrowski. “One of the problems we have is these are students neighbors may have concerns about. We can control it 98 percent of the time but there are times you have problems.”

The LIU provides a variety of services – mostly special education – to area districts. The center takes on children too disruptive for the regular schools by keeping class sizes small and supervision high. Districts pay a fixed fee of $45 per day per student. Though enrollment dwindled to a few dozen several years ago when the center fell under a cloud of controversy, it has made a strong turnaround.

“On the one hand, that’s a pleasant problem to have because you know the program is good, but it’s sad in a way that we have that many kids,” Ostrowski said.

The LIU rents the former Plains Township High School for $1 a year from the Wilkes-Barre Area School District, and has been patching the roof for years. But Jim Gambini, who oversees LIU building maintenance, said it has gotten so bad there was no choice but to get a new roof or look for a new building.

Since the LIU doesn’t levy taxes – it survives through federal and state funding, fees for services and some direct contributions by districts – it can’t afford to build a new school, so it has been looking for a cheaper solution. The Catholic schools that were closed this summer looked promising, Ostrowski said, but were too small or poorly located.

So the roof work is under way. The LIU has enough money to pay for it without hitting districts for more cash, but paying for other renovations could be a problem. Gambini is hoping to find some grants; Ostrowski said the per student daily fee could be bumped up another $5.

Gambini said LIU officials have been talking with participating districts to work out a solution agreeable to everyone. “This issue has to be resolved.”

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