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Commissioners closing in on final OK for $65 million HHS project

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to take up the final piece of the most expensive school project in county history next week.

Last week, when county Finance Director Samantha Reynolds presented an agreement to take on $65.75 million in debt for the Hendersonville High School construction-renovation plan, Commissioner Bill Lapsley noted the momentous occasion.

"It's the largest single borrowing that Henderson County has made in its history," he said. "This is a significant event in the history of Henderson County and I just would like to recognize that."

The borrowing plan for HHS would appear to be the largest for a single project and is $10 million more than the $55 million the county borrowed in the early 2000s to finance the Historic Courthouse renovation, human services building and an elementary school.

Commissioners have approved the first two contracts for the HHS job. They take up the third "guaranteed maximum price" contract next week, by far the largest. County officials opened bids for the third phase last month.

"When those bids come in, those are significant numbers," county construction manager David Berry told commissioners last week. "We lean on our construction company because they are the contractor at risk. Right now, what they’re doing is vetting those numbers because once they accept those bids and they’ve given those numbers to us then we hold them accountable. After last week’s opening of those bids, right now we are still within budget but that’s not official until we bid it out and get the word from our construction company and bring that to you at next meeting."

Commissioners asked questions about what the $65 million included and whether the construction cost might ultimately exceed that. Reynolds said the goal was to keep the cost under $60 million. Responding to Commissioner Michael Edney's question about underground water and sewer line the contractors have seen, Berry assured the board that those problems would be resolved, too. The contracts, he said, have a higher contingency amounts than usual to cover unforeseen problems. “I firmly believe the unknowns are covered in the $60 million we talked about,” he said.

The agreement "includes water and sewer (work) including toilet paper in the toilet paper rolls," John Mitchell, the county's director of business and community development, told commissioners. The designers and lead contractor, Vannoy Construction, are committed "to bring a fully functional high school up to and including all those items."

Commissioners were also unclear about whether the $65 million included a new track, bleachers and artificial turf. It does not, although commissioners will be shown an option next week to add a press box.

"There are alternatives this board will see which includes a press box, which was also presented to this board by the architectural team," Mitchell said.

Commissioners asked about whether it might be possible to piggyback the turf and track onto the end of the main construction job.

"The board is committed to doing the artificial field basically when the project’s through,” County Manager Steve Wyatt responded. “The track or that facility is not part of the project. ... What you say is doable but we’ve got a lot of work to do before we get to that point to say yes or no. But you’ve committed to the artificial surface."

Commissioners will have ample opportunity next week, Mitchell said, to ask questions and air any concerns.

“It’s our intention at your mid-month meeting to bring the contractor here and the architect here to give this board the opportunity to be sure this is what you folks are intending to," he said. "We are bringing you a project which will be delivered on time and under budget.”