LCCC celebrates opening

Officials from Luzerne County Community College (LCCC) and the local community took part in a ribbon cutting ceremony at the college’s new Watsontown branch. Front and from left, Rosana Reyes, LCCC Enrollment Management and Student Development vice president; Barb Diehl, WABA president; Dr. Alan Hack, Warrior Run School District superintendent; Traci Donahue, first chair of the LCCC foundation board; Thomas Leary, LCCC president; Dave Zartman, representing the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce (GSVCC); Linn Distasio, vice chair of the LCCC board; Sen. John Gordner (R-27); Sam Schiccatano, Northumberland County commissioner; David Rowe, who was elected Tuesday as the representative to the 85th Legislative district. And rear. Bob Garrett, GSVCC president and CEO; Dr. John Kurelja, CSIU assistant executive director; and Elizabeth Bolden, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges.

WATSONTOWN — As representatives from the Luzerne County Community College (LCCC) touted the college’s long-term commitment to the Watsontown community, local officials expressed their support of a new community college branch campus.

The opening of the LCCC’s seventh branch location, the Greater Susquehanna Center at the former Watsontown Elementary School, was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday morning. The first day of class for students at the school will be Sept. 16.

The center will initially utilize five classrooms, two computer labs and an office area. Enrollment is still open for classes to be offered from the center, including English, math, speech, biology, sociology, art, first year experience, computer information systems and CPR.

Earlier this summer, the LCCC board of trustees approved an agreement to establish the new campus center in Watsontown.

The Warrior Run School District school board in May approved the agreement, with Superintendent Dr. Alan Hack stating following that meeting it’s for six years, running through June 30, 2025. Either party can back out of the agreement — which involves no charges to the LCCC — upon giving six-months notification.

The LCCC previously announced the tuition rate of $134 per credit.

Hack said any high school student living in Northumberland and surrounding counties will have access to the courses at approximately half of that tuition rate.

He also noted that a $10 per credit facility fee, and a $30 per credit capital fee will be charged to anyone taking classes at the center. Those funds will go to the school district.

Bob Garrett, president and CEO of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce, said recently the LCCC has agreed to cover what he described as Warrior Run’s “utility fee” being assessed to LCCC students for an initial period of time.

Garrett, who is also the chair of the Susquehanna Community Education Project, said following Wednesday’s ribbon cutting ceremony he has now presented about the community college to commissioners in Northumberland, Montour, Clinton, Union, Snyder and Lycoming counties.

During his remarks earlier this month to the Northumberland County commissioners, Garrett said he will be coming back to each of the boards of commissioners in the future asking for their financial support of the LCCC branch campus in Watsontown.

He said $100,000 is needed to cover costs associated with utilizing the former elementary school building for the college campus.

Garrett on Wednesday said he will soon be following up with the commissioners in six counties as part of his efforts to attain financial support for the branch campus.

“My feeling was there was a sense of openness, a sense of interest (from commissioners),” Garrett said. “I do expect we will get positive responses.”

Dr. John Kurelja, assistant executive director of the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU) and a member of the Susquehanna Community Education Project board, likened the efforts to bring a community college to the area to a marathon.

“This has been ongoing for over 10 years,” he said, of the efforts to bring a community college to the area.

“When you get into a marathon, there’s a sprint at the end,” Kurelja said. “When we got to this last part, we had to push it over the finish line.”

While the campus is now ready to welcome students, he said the project has not completely crossed the finish line. He referenced the efforts to raise $100,000 from the six area counties to cover the “utility fee” proposed to be charged to students taking classes at the campus.

“We are hoping, at the end of the finish line, the county commissioners are there to embrace us,” Kurelja said.

Members of the community are welcoming the LCCC campus to Watsontown.

Barb Diehl, president of the Watsontown Area Business Association (WABA), announced the organization will be providing the LCCC with a one-year membership in the organization.

“For many of us, our children went to elementary school year,” Diehl said, adding that she’s glad the facility will still be used for educational purposes.

“WABA would like to welcome you to the community,” she said, to LCCC officials.

While members of the community are extending open arms to the campus, LCCC officials are also looking forward to serving the area.

Thomas Leary, LCCC president, spoke both prior to and during the ribbon cutting ceremony on his excitement for the opening of the branch campus.

“I cannot describe how important it is to expand the opportunities for higher education,” Leary said. “I want to commit today that the Luzerne County Community College is going to open our doors, open our arms, to the people to come here.

“We are committed, we are here for the long run. We are here to stay.”

Leary expressed his thanks for the many partnering entities which have assisted with the establishment of the branch campus.

“Higher education changes lives,” Leary said. “I’ve been asked several times, what does this mean. The bottom line, that’s what this means.”

Rosana Reyes, vice president of Enrollment Management and Student Development at LCCC, said the college will have a special place in the community.

According to Reyes, 57% of LCCC graduates earn between $40,000 and $60,000 per year. In 2018, 99% of graduates reported reaching their objectives by attending LCCC.

Watsontown Mayor Russ McClintock was among a number of locally elected officials in attendance at the event. He said following the ceremony that borough council had sent a letter to the LCCC stating its support for the opening of the branch campus in Watsontown.

“It’s an exciting day for the Borough of Watsontown,” McClintock said. “Utilizing this building is tremendous.”

Doug Whitmoyer, president of the Warrior Run School District school board, said it’s important that the former elementary school continue to serve as an educational center.

“I’m happy,” Whitmoyer said. “I’m glad to see this... (The building) is being used for education.”

The building was vacated at the end of the 2015-2016 school year when the district consolidated its elementary program.

Hack previously said the building has approximately 22 classrooms. At the start of the 2018-2019 school year, CSIU started leasing 8.5 classrooms in the building to host various classrooms.

In December, the board approved granting CSIU an additional two-year lease, at a cost of $8 per square foot for the space it uses.

Warrior Run’s Transition program also operates a consignment store, Defenders’ Trading Post, out of a portion of the building.

Staff writer Kevin Mertz can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email kevin@standard-journal.com.

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