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Panel endorses current county architect for new HHS plans

Architect Paul Boney, of LS3P, along with other members of the design team, describes HHS construction plan. Architect Paul Boney, of LS3P, along with other members of the design team, describes HHS construction plan.

A committee on Friday recommended that the Henderson County School Board stick with the county’s architect of record, ClarkNexsen of Asheville, to draw new construction plans for Hendersonville High School, a move that could break an impasse between the School Board and county Board of Commissioners over the future of HHS.

The committee, made up of four School Board members and three administrators, recommended ClarkNexsen over three other architectural firms after each made hour-long presentations. The School Board made clear in its request for qualifications that it wanted to see new plans that blend a renovation of the historic Stillwell building with new construction. The maximum price was set at $52.6 million. ClarkNexsen principle Chad Roberson seemed to have convinced committee members that the firm could give the project a fresh look despite its four years of history with numerous options.
The School Board is expected to ratify the committee recommendation in a special meeting at noon Monday. If the board and ClarkNexsen can't agree on terms, the board would offer to the second-place finisher, a joint venture of PFA architects of Asheville and LS3P of Charlotte.
The ad hoc committee was made up of School Board chair Amy Lynn Holt and members Blair Craven, Rick Wood and Michael Absher, Superintendent Bo Caldwell, Associate Superintendent John Bryant and Kent Parent, director of capital projects. All seven members filled out a ballot ranking the presentations 1 through 4. ClarkNexsen received five first place votes while PFA/LS3P received two.
Assuming it’s ratified by the full board, the committee’s work could signal a breakthrough in a contentious four-year long process that has pivoted on the question of building an entirely new school versus renovating the Stillwell building and adding new gyms, cafeteria, bandroom and auditorium. After voting for the new-construction option favored by the Board of Commissioners in December 2016, the School Board has come to a consensus favoring a renovation-new construction blend.

In July commissioners voted to drop the HHS project and put the Boyd property next door on the market, triggering concern from School Board members and HHS alumni that nothing would ever be done. Last month commissioners agreed to the School Board’s request for a six-month window to hire an architect to draw new plans for HHS. Commissioners have placed conditions on what they would approve in a new plan, and School Board members said Friday that's a part of the challenge ClarkNexsen will face when it revises the plans.

In choosing ClarkNexsen over three other finalists, the ad hoc committee went with a firm that has earned the confidence of county administrators and county commissioners.

“I think it’s to the benefit of the project," Roberson said when asked about that relationship. "I think we’re well respected. I hope we are. We’ve gotten a number of projects built on time and under budget.”

As the county's architect of record, ClarkNexsen has designed and overseen the construction of the Health Sciences building on the Pardee campus, the Innovative High School at Blue Ridge Community College, the emergency management headquarters and new Edneyville Elementary School.

Craven asked Roberson whether the firm, given its perceived preference for an all-new construction option, could shed blinders and take a fresh look based on the School Board's wishes.

“I think you would be very surprised at what we bring back to you,” Roberson said. “No blinders.”

Craven then asked whether ClarkNexsen would face a conflict of interest working for the School Board and Board of Commissioners at the same time.

"Listening to you is not even a question. It’s a given," Roberson said. He said the firm always serves as an advocate for its clients and would in this case. It would present options and information. “You decide how to move forward. Not us.”

Since 2014, Roberson pointed out, the firm has inspected all the HHS buildings from top to bottom and examined everything from pedestrian and car traffic to soil stability and the prevailing winds. "Lastly, no one one has more intimate knowledge of your site, your building, your programs," he added. "We can hit the ground running, generating solutions that will ultimately save you money in the end."

Of the four presenters, PFA/LS3P had advanced its design the farthest, showing a 3D model of Stillwell renovation and a new classroom building along Oakland Street. The other two finalists among nine that made the cut to present in person to the committee were Novus Architects, an Asheville firm that is currently conducting an overall evaluation of capital improvement and safety needs across the school system, and McMillan Pazdan Smith, whose team included architect Neal Kanipe, an HHS graduate and Hendersonville resident.