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New HHS plan wins applause

A plan by PFA/LS3P architects would preserve the Stillwell building (upper left) and the 1974 gym (gray with Bearcat paw) and add a new classroom building (center left), band and chorus room, auxiliary gym and cafeteria. [PFA/LS3P Architects] A plan by PFA/LS3P architects would preserve the Stillwell building (upper left) and the 1974 gym (gray with Bearcat paw) and add a new classroom building (center left), band and chorus room, auxiliary gym and cafeteria. [PFA/LS3P Architects]

Architects hired to draw a new plan for Hendersonville High School presented a design Monday night that drew praise from the School Board and applause from Bearcat alumni and faculty in the audience. The plan preserves the historic Stillwell core building — the crux of a dispute between the county commissioners and School Board — while adding a second large classroom building, second gym, new courtyard space and numerous security improvements.
Two architectural firms formed a partnership for the project in response to the School Board’s request for a new school design. The firms are Asheville-based PFA Architects and LS3P, a Charlotte-based education construction specialist that has built 576 school buildings in the past 20 years.
Presented at a special meeting of the School Board on Monday night, the new plan followed the same lines as one that that the firm presented back in September when it won the board’s endorsement to design. With its final vote on the plan expected to come next week, the School Board is near the end of this phase of its last ditch effort to save the HHS construction project after a rift with the Board of Commissioners over the cost and design issues.
Jay Egolf, who just joined the School Board last month after winning election in November, complimented the School Board and the architects for having come this far.
“Everybody did an outstanding job,” he said. “I think it’s great. Great job.”
Board Chair Amy Lynn Holt, who with Blair Craven led the battle for a Stillwell-centric plan, said the vote on this new plan would come next Monday night.
“We’re just waiting on some final budget numbers so we can approve it and hopefully take it across town for approval,” she said.

PFA principal Maggie Carnevale told the School Board that the team had held seven different meetings with high school faculty and staff, briefed county commissioners on the plans and begun working with Vannoy Construction, which has done many projects for the county, on refining cost estimates. The architects also have gotten the preliminary blessing from the state Department of Public Instruction — “They said keep going, keep moving forward,” Carnevale said — and has met four times with the development team of the city of Hendersonville, including the city manager, fire chief, police chief, planning staff, engineers and public works.
The plan would result in 150,000 square feet of new and renovated space, including 91,000 square feet of new building.
PFA partner Scott Donald said the team’s primary goal was to preserve the historic Stillwell building while adding the new space and making the campus secure. Besides the Stillwell building, only the 1974 gym would survive. The cafeteria, bandroom, vocational-ed building and auxiliary gym would all be bulldozed by the time the project is done in 2023.
The construction phasing is complicated and not without sacrifice.
HHS will lose use of a gym for one whole school year; once the cafeteria is demolished to make room for the new classroom building, lunches will be made offsite at Hendersonville Middle School and brought to HHS.
“The Stillwell building is a community landmark and it’s also a very well built building,” Donald said. “They did things right in the ‘20s. It’s a building worth saving.”
The historic building has a new roof and a new chiller but will need new wiring, heating and AC systems and fire safety fixes to meet code. The architects said the “critically undersized classrooms” will be greatly enlarged without disturbing columns or load-bearing walls. “It can be repaired and renovated. It also will save you a lot of money compared to building two new buildings. Rather than do that, we can repair these buildings and use them for another 75 years.” The Jim Pardue Gymnasium and originally HHS building “have a lot of meaning to the community,” he said. “They’re well worth saving.”
Architect Amy Dowty explained the security improvements for a campus that is “too porous” with “too many entries.” The plan creates 146 parking spaces on the Boyd lot.
“That gives us enough room on this campus that we can look at the campus as a whole and make it safe,” she said. “If we can provide 146 spaces on this campus then we meet the ordinance and this plan does that. That’s not counting parking on the street.”
Students and faculty would reach the parking lot with a right turn from Asheville Highway at the now closed Ninth Avenue and would exit via right turn only onto Asheville Highway. Bus loading would be safer and simpler thanks to a turn-out lane parallel to Oakland Street.

“We have designed this entry so there would be two manned supervisable entries into the building at pickup and dropoff times,” Dowty said. “After pickup and dropoff time, all the other doors could be locked automatically.”
Connecting the new classroom to the Stillwell building with a second-story pedestrian bridge means students can reach everything on the campus without having to go outside — a major security improvement.