Wyoming County Commissioners (above, from left) Tom Henry, Rick Wilbur and Ernie King conducted their first full public meeting together since the three were sworn in last week. The hot topic of the day was the desire of Wilbur and King to purchase the former Mill City school building to be renovated into office space for the county and others.
By Rick Hiduk
(Exclusive to EndlessMtnLifestyles.com readers)
At their first official meeting as a newly organized board, the Wyoming County Commissioners voted 2 to 1 on Tuesday to ask the Tunkhannock Area School District to reject all bids received on Saturday for the purchase of the Mill City Elementary School building and instead accept a bid of $125,000 from the county. At least two of the commissioners will attend a special meeting of the school board scheduled for 6:30 this evening to formally make the request.
County solicitor Paul Litwin and new board chairman Rick Wilbur made the announcement after an executive session that put the regular public meeting of the commissioners on hold for about 20 minutes.
“I’ve been working on this since before I took office,” Wilbur related, adding “The timing, however, couldn’t have been worse,” in reference to the school district’s advertised bid deadline of Jan. 11 landing just five days after he and new commissioner Ernie King were sworn in and before they could hold their first public meeting.
Wilbur wants the building in order to consolidate county offices that are currently scattered about the county and costing approximately $50,000 per year in rent. The Robinson Building in Eaton Township, which currently houses Children & Youth Services, the county resource director, and other departments would be closed, Wilbur explained. “With Aldi’s coming in, that’s a very valuable piece of property,” he remarked.
The former Mill City School, he explained, is a solid structure and should not require much renovation. There is more space there than the county currently needs, and some of that could be rented to other state and federal agencies who maintain offices in Wyoming County.
Wilbur would like to see a small business incubator established in the building with the help of Ben Franklin Technology Partners, with whom Wilbur has already been in contact. The all-purpose room would be left intact in hopes that it could be utilized as a community recreation center, as no other facility of that type currently exists in the county.
Wilbur admitted that he has not yet approached the state and federal agencies about renting space in the building, “But I don’t see why they wouldn’t consider it.” Requesting a zoning variance would be easier with the Mill City school building than with the Evans Falls School because the Mill City property already abuts commercial land. The Evans Falls building, on the other hand, is surrounded by residential properties.
Practically speaking, Wilbur could not foresee the project coming to fruition for at least another year, but said, “But if we don’t move now, we’re never going to get it at that price.”
Wilbur said the county would also seek a USDA grant for $100,000 toward the cost of the building. “I’ve already talked to those folks too,” he stated. “We don’t have it yet, but they said that we are qualified.” The sale of the Robinson Building and rental of office space to other entities would generate new income, he maintained.
Lori Bennett, a Tunkhannock School Board member in attendance suggested that, if the board accepts the proposal, the county work with the school’s shop teachers and possibly make the renovation a part of the curriculum. “It think it would save the county a tremendous amount of money and get the students involved with it,” she offered. Wilbur agreed.
King made the motion to ask the school board reject the bids that they were to review at tonight’s meeting at 6:30 in the high school library and allow the county to buy the building for $125,000. It was seconded by Wilbur and passed with two votes. Commissioner Tom Henry voted “no” on the plan, stating that he was uncomfortable with the timing and concerned about how the public would perceive the move. He noted that he is also unsure that the location would be practical. Otherwise, Henry said that he is not opposed to the idea.