Luzerne County Council has received a request to help fund a new parking lot in front of the Wyoming Area Catholic School in Exeter that also would service nearby sports fields and community events.

More than $200,000 is needed toward the project, which is estimated to cost $450,000 to $500,000, according to documents presented.

According to the submittal from Monsignor John J. Sempa, pastor of the linked parishes of Corpus Christi and St. Barbara and the clergy member assigned to the school:

The Wyoming Avenue school is adjacent to the now-closed St. Cecilia’s Church.

Plans to sell the church and its parking lot have been delayed because the rear church parking lot also is used by the school, for a youth football field and as the end point and ceremony location for hundreds of veterans, vehicles and participants in the annual Memorial Day parade.

In 2020, estimates placed the cost of a new lot in front of the school at around $240,000. The Diocesan Schools Office secured an engineer to begin the plans for the parking lot based on this estimated cost.

With delays stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, the project was bid out last July, yielding a price of $450,000 before permit fees or contingency allowances.

“The school system and the parish were prepared to fully fund the $240,000 estimated price tag and still are, but sadly $450,000 (which will likely reach $500,000 with the inclusion of permits and final contingencies) is outside of our reach given the responsibility to maintain the remaining parish community and the cemeteries that St. Barbara’s is responsible to maintain,” it said.

Exeter officials “share the same concerns for what happens if the lot disappears.”

“We as a parish and as a school system are at an impasse struggling to find a solution. I am confident that no one had an appreciation that the costs were skyrocketing until it was too late to apply for monies such as certain government COVID funds,” the communication said.

Atty. Joseph Burke, president of the pastoral council for the linked parishes, spoke in support of the funding request at council’s April 9 work session. Burke said Exeter borough officials recognized the need for a replacement parking lot and also made it a condition of a subdivision along with separate access for the school.

Council Vice Chairman Brian Thornton recognized the value of the lot for the Memorial Day presentation, school and youth athletics.

Thornton asked the administration to research the possibility of allocating a portion of remaining federal American Rescue Plan funds for the project.

Councilman Kevin Lescavage said the parish would have requested American Rescue funding during the open application period if it had known the price would escalate that high. He said he hopes the county can “make it right for kids.”

The county administration is researching potential funding streams.

Council may vote on the request at its April 22 meeting.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Dallas Post

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