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County boots Boyd property sale

County Commissioner Charlie Messer speaks during discussion of Hendersonville High School. County Commissioner Charlie Messer speaks during discussion of Hendersonville High School.

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners on Monday delayed the proposed sale of the Boyd property next to Hendersonville High School, issuing a stay of execution of sorts on a vote three weeks ago that HHS alumni feared would mean the end of the high school on the city campus. Now, it's back to the drawing board for the School Board, which won the commissioners' grudging consent to look at other construction options.

 

Commissioners voted unanimously to drop plans, for now, to sell the vacant land north of the high school. They also agreed to let the School Board explore construction options over the next six months. The commission's agenda had included an item to choose a commercial real estate firm to market the former car dealership land.

“We don’t want to see the property sold,” School Board Chair Amy Lynn Holt told commissioners. “We don’t want to lose that property and feel like we’re landlocked in there without any options to build at that point. It’s not going to be a total new building, it’s going to be renovation and some new things.”

The School Board and commissioners are at odds over the commissioners' desire for an all-new school and the School Board's wishes to explore other options, including continuing use of the historic Stillwell classroom building and auditorium.

The commissioners' reception to the School Board’s request was warmer than the political climate on July 18, when the board voted 4-1 to kill the construction plans and move toward the sale of the former car dealership land, which the county bought in 2011 for HHS expansion. The county has spent $4.8 million on property acquisition, ground testing, planning and design and demolition on the project, county officials say.

“It sounds like a reasonable approach to me,” Commissioner Grady Hawkins said of the School Board's offer, delivered in a letter. “It gives the Board of Ed time to explore whatever options satisfies their need for Hendersonville High School and whatever fate for the Stillwell building.”

Although he voted for the motion to drop the Boyd property sale, Commissioner Tommy Thompson seemed to only grudgingly accept the School Board’s plan to take another crack at design, which he called “an attempt to circumvent and come up with what their original desire was and have us pay for it.”

“If I could be assured that new construction would be considered I would support holding off for six months,” he added. “This thing’s gotten out of hand, it’s cost the taxpayers of this county a tremendous amount of money. Being conservative, it just appalls me we’ve spent this kind of money over something we should have settled years ago.”

Commissioner Bill Lapsley acknowledged what School Board members and many HHS loyalists have been saying — that selling the Boyd land would eliminate any major construction options on the city campus.

“Since our meeting I’ve given this a lot of thought and it seems to me that if we sell the property we’re in effect making a terminal decision about the future of Hendersonville High School and that is certainly not my intent by the action we took,” he said. “I think by doing that we not only kill the current plan that this board has supported but we would in effect kill any future plan to improve the school.”

The makeup of the School Board and the Board of Commissioners could change, he noted, shifting either board’s position.

“There’s also a possibility that a new plan could be presented that would meet our approval. That’s certainly a possibility. I personally think it’s remote but it’s a possibility. If we go ahead and sell the property we effectively eliminate all those options. I think that’s unfair to the taxpayers. The taxpayers deserve the opportunity to make sure that we’ve vetted all possible, reasonable options. I have decided to change my position as far as selling the property.”

As for revisiting the project with an eye toward a renovation-new construction, Lapsley cited seven factors he said he would use to evaluate a new proposal. To be acceptable, he said, the plan would have to:

  • Maintain a construction time of 32 months, as the county’s plan did.
  • Ensure campus security, something he said the new-school option achieved by having everything in one building, “about as secure a situation as we can get.”
  • Keep students “totally out of the construction zone. Any interaction with students in the construction zone presents an unreasonable risk in my opinion of injury.”
  • Limit temporary classrooms in modular units or have none, like the county's preferred option.
  • Produce a building with a long life. A renovated 90-year-old building, he said, won’t last as long as a new building.
  • Use high-quality durable materials, like the brick-and-steel construction commissioners wanted, not cheap materials in an effort to save money.
  • Be completed all at once, not in phases “over 20 years. I don’t think we’re comparing apples to apples if we do that.”

“Those are the concerns that I have and that I will use to measure for myself whether a new plan is equal to or better than we’ve presented,” Lapsley said. “I’m not convinced that there is a better plan but I could be wrong.”

Lapsley, a civil engineer whose opinion tends to carry weight on construction matters, said he would not place a cap on a new option at $52.6 million.

“The cost is what the cost is,” he said. “I don’t see that it’s necessary to limit the scope of the architect to try and meet a specific number.”

Chairman Michael Edney, who cast the only no vote in last month’s vote to scrap the HHS plans, pointed out that the longer this debate goes on, the more existing problems in the old building will fester.

“More than once I’ve said I not going to do what the School Board doesn’t want to do,” he said. “I disagree with starting from scratch. I disagree with putting a number on it. But I think those are School Board opportunities and options.”

He implored the School Board “to look at the 2½ pages of code violations on the existing facility and have a plan to address those.”

Holt expressed a cautious endorsement of the commissioners’ actions.

“I’m excited that we have a chance to come up with a plan that works for that school,” she said.

Lapsley’s conditions, she acknowledged, could be hard to achieve in a combined renovation-new construction option.

“It sounds like that needs to be met with a brand new all-inclusive building, which I don’t think we can do by renovating them,” she said.

School administrators said they would begin the search immediately for an architect to carry out the new look at options. They did not rule out using the county's architect of record, Chad Roberson, of ClarkNexsen, acknowledging that he knows more about the buildings and grounds than new candidates would.