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School Board to hire architect to explore HHS options

Squeezed by a looming deadline and a tight budget, the Henderson County School Board voted Monday night to launch a search for an architect to evaluate options for Hendersonville High School construction in the hopes of coming up with an alternative that the board and the Board of Commissioners can accept.

“We have a chance to get this right, right now,” board member Blair Craven said at the close of a discussion on the subject. “Let’s look at what we can do in a fiscally responsible manner and let’s get it done.”
Getting it done is no easy task, as more than two years of contentious politics and communications breakdowns have underscored. The School Board has less than six months to interview and retain an architect, have the architect draw up conceptual plans for the project and agree to an option that it would send to the Board of Commissioners. County officials say they need the recommendation by February, when they want to begin work on drafting a four-year capital improvements plan for schools and other county buildings.
The commissioners voted last month to drop the HHS construction project and sell the Boyd property next door, throwing the future of the high school in doubt and further exacerbating the ill will between the two boards. Commissioners retreated some in their Aug. 6 meeting, voting to delay consideration of the Boyd property sale and agreeing to the School Board’s proposal to look at other options. Some School Board members, HHS alumni and much of the school faculty favor a combination renovation and new construction plan, though it’s far from clear that that option could win three votes on the County Commission.
The School Board voted unanimously to direct schools Superintendent Bo Caldwell to draft and send out a request for qualifications to architectural firms on an accelerated time frame. The board authorized Chair Amy Lynn Holt to appoint members to an ad hoc committee to guide the RFQ process. Craven and Michael Absher volunteered to serve. Holt said she had worked too hard to salvage the project not to serve.
The School Board has a limited amount it can spend, around $300,000. The money would come from fund balance, which needs a minimum of $2.5 million for emergencies. The reserve account is at $2.8 million.
In a discussion about the cost, School Board attorney Dean Shatley suggested that the cost of the design work would likely be cheaper if the board used the county’s architect of record, ClarkNexsen, “unless you dramatically change the scope of work.”
“That’s why we’re here,” Craven responded, “to change the scope of work.”
In the interest of transparency, Wood said that the ad hoc committee should be open to the public and the press. The board agreed that it would.
The meeting produced the revelation that a new plan had been floated that would keep the historic Stillwell building for classrooms, renovate the auditorium, keep the newer gym, site new buildings on Dietz Field and build a new football stadium on the Boyd property. Wood said he had been hearing about the idea.
“Mr. Wilkins actually presented that recently,” Craven said, referring to HHS principal Bobby Wilkins.