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HHS as seen from a drone photo. [PHOTO BY DAVID RHODE] HHS as seen from a drone photo. [PHOTO BY DAVID RHODE]

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners will meet with the School Board for a joint discussion on the Hendersonville High School construction next week, the first time the two bodies will have sat down in the same room amid a widening conflict over power and money.

On the eve of an election that could change the makeup of the School Board, Commissioner Grady Hawkins announced at the tail end of a regular county commission meeting Monday night that a “working group” of county commissioners, School Board members, HHS teachers and principal was ready to present a new proposal.
“We’ve got something to present,” he said when asked after the meeting about the group. “A number of teachers that were interested and the principal met with the architect and looked at parameters they had an interest in and met with some Board of Education members.”
Among those in the working group, or that the working group consulted, were Commissioner Bill Lapsley and David Berry, the county’s director of construction projects.
“It moved to the point where the working group would like to present what we’ve done so far,” Hawkins said.
School Board member Rick Wood said he’s not aware of the working group’s progress.
“Don’t know much about it,” he said. “I had heard that there may be a meeting coming up since they took it off the agenda for this evening to hear the presentation of the architect on what the commissioners want to do at the high school. I’m not in a group that’s met with commissioners. That’s a definite no.”
He applauded the idea of a joint meeting.
“I would like to see the two boards sit down together and see if we can come to some sort of agreement,” he said. “I’m certainly for that —anything that can improve communications between the two boards I’m in favor of.”
The joint meeting comes amid a widening rift between the Board of Commissioners over the Hendersonville High School design and construction priorities — and growing frustration of School Board members that the commissioners have usurped its authority under the law to run the school district.

Three times the Board of Commissioners — in two votes and a letter — have rejected the School Board's recommendation for the HHS design. The School Board, in a 4-3 vote last April, had recommended a combination renovation-new construction option that would have ensured continued use of the historic classroom building for school use.

Then, last month, the two boards volleyed letters that escalated the political conflict. The School Board voted unanimously to rank a new Edneyville Elementary School ahead of the controversial HHS project. In response to the School Board letter's notifying them of that recommendation, commissioners responded that HHS was the higher priority and added that Edneyville enrollment projections raised "doubts about the need for that school." In follow-up interviews, commissioners told the Hendersonville Lightning that no one has talked about closing Edneyville Elementary School.

While state law says "the building of all new school buildings shall be under the control and direction of ... the board of education" that orders it, county commissioners and the county attorney say the financing of schools gives them the final authority on construction plans.