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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: A glimmer of hope for HHS

After too many communications breakdowns and political squabbles to count, the Henderson County School Board is off to a promising start on the Hendersonville High School construction.

A “promising start” is a peculiar locution, of course, given that this discussion has gone on for more than three years and has already cost taxpayers close to $5 million. Much of that work might be thrown in the shredder, since the School Board has hired new architects to draw plans. The running total includes the purchase of the Boyd auto dealership property, which will be needed for parking, and the Fassifern Court lot, which the county could sell if it’s not needed.
The School Board voted unanimously last month to retain a partnership of two architectural firms, PFA of Asheville and LS3P, school-building specialists from Charlotte, to design the construction plan. In selecting PFA/LS3P over the county architect of record, ClarkNexsen, the School Board chose the firm that had presented a solid plan to renovate the historic Stillwell building and auditorium.
It may have seemed like a roll of the dice for PFA/LS3P to assume that a renovation-new construction hybrid would win the day. But in hindsight, not so much. This was clearly the way the School Board was leaning. The students, faculty and alumni of HHS broadly favor keeping the historic core structure as a classroom building.
The PFA/LS3P team boldly declares that it can add a second classroom building with administrative offices, an auxiliary gym, cafeteria and career technical education building on the landlocked campus while also renovating Stillwell and the 1974 Jim Pardue Gymnasium — for $52.4 million. Next comes the sharp-pencil work of a real cost estimate — which comes in a climate of steep construction price escalation and uncertainty in the market price of steel and other materials.
The question is whether the Board of Commissioners, which would write the check for the project, will accept the School Board’s proposal come January. Significantly, Commissioner Bill Lapsley says he’s open to whatever the School Board sends up. Commissioners authorized this last-ditch effort to start with in August, so it’s incumbent on them to receive the recommendation with an open mind.
Last month in this space we endorsed the selection of ClarkNexsen, in part because the firm has done so much of the basic groundwork and in part because they have a winning record with the county. But the unanimous vote of the School Board on Sept. 27 — and the spirited can-do attitude of the PFA/LS3P team — inspires confidence.
The clock is ticking and we’re sure that the new team is ready, willing and able to burn the midnight oil on the next phase of design, engineering and cost projection. For the first time in a long time, the HHS community is looking at the future with optimism. The community at large has reason to be optimistic, too. The School Board and Board of Commissioners are in a position to shed a dysfunctional dynamic and work together for a positive outcome.