WATSONTOWN — Members of the Susquehanna Community Education Project committee will be approaching the boards of commissioners in five counties to potentially provide funding to assist with the establishment of a Luzerne County Community College (LCCC) branch at the former Watsontown Elementary School building.

Bob Garrett, president and CEO of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce and chair of the Susquehanna Community Education Project, said the committee is still working to put together all of the details needed to have an LCCC branch established in Watsontown.

Garrett, along with committee member Dr. John Kurelja and Northumberland County Commissioner Chair Rick Shoch are putting together proposals which will eventually be presented to commissioners in five counties.

Initially, Garrett said presentations will be made during public meetings to the Northumberland, Union, Snyder and Montour county commissioners.

“Because of its location in Watsontown, we believe that Lycoming County might have an interest (in supporting an LCCC branch) as well,” Garrett said.

Prior to presenting to the Lycoming County commissioners, Garrett said he would be working with officials from the Williamsport-Lycoming County Chamber of Commerce to gain their support for the proposal.

Approximately $100,000 total is being sought by the committee, which Garrett said would be needed to assist with rent and renovations needed to the Watsontown facility to accommodate the campus.

“Whatever political entity puts money in (to the college), they will get in-county tuition,” Garrett explained. “They will get a significant in-county tuition reduction (for residents), if they are a sponsor of the program. We want to take that out to the different county boards of commissioners and make a very strong case for that.

“If they had one student from the county (enrolled), it would be a payoff.”

Because counties operate on a calendar-year budget, Garrett said the committee will be flexible on whether the potential contributions from the counties could be made this year or next. Approximately $25,000 to $30,000 will be sought from each county, based on the size of the county.

“We are still hopeful to have a (community college) program up and running in the fall semester, 2019,” Garrett said. “It might be a very modest program we have up and running for 2019, but we would build upon it.”

He said the committee is still operating under the assumption it will be leasing space for the campus in the former Watsontown Elementary School building. Exact discussions have not been held with the district on whether the Susquehanna Community Education Project committee would be responsible for renovations to the building, or whether those costs would be absorbed by the school district through rent charged for use of the building.

“They closed the school because there are needed renovations,” Garrett said. “We are trying to raise the money for the needed renovations.”

Previously, Warrior Run Superintendent Dr. Alan Hack stressed that the school board would have to determine how much it would charge the college to rent the facility.

“Once that agreement was made, (the college) would need to find funding and we would need to come up with a lease agreement,” Hack said. “We know, initially, there will be some upgrades (to the building) required.”

He said it would have to be determined if the school district or college would pay for the upgrades.

“We are looking at potentially using the back portion of the building as the front entrance for the college,” Hack said. “It has a more welcoming and college-level atmosphere.”

He said the college would be looking to utilize 10 traditional classrooms, a multi-purpose lab, computer labs, a reception area, a student lounge area and offices.

The Watsontown Elementary School 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.

If approved, the LCCC would not be the only occupant of the former elementary school building.

At the start of the 2018-2019 school year, CSIU started leasing 8.5 classrooms in the building to host various programs.

In December, the Warrior Run board approved granting CSIU an additional two-year least to utilize a portion of the building.

Hack said the terms of the new lease call for CSIU to pay $8 per square foot for the space it uses. Currently, he said CSIU pays $7 per square foot.

He also noted that CSIU would be leasing 9,000 square feet, a slight addition over the space currently used.

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

Garrett remains confident that an LCCC branch will be operating in the area by year’s end.

“We are still very positive that we are going to have a campus of the Luzerne County Community College in the Greater Susquehanna Valley,” Garrett said.

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

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