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Commissioners OK $2.1 million for turf, track at HHS

Choosing a lower cost option, Henderson County commissioners voted 4-1 Wednesday to fund a new rubberized track and artificial turf football and soccer field at Hendersonville High School.

In agreeing to the field and track improvements, the board declined to fund more expensive options to replace concession stands and restrooms and replace visitor bleachers.

Commissioner Michael Edney urged his colleagues to invest in the concession stand and restroom improvements now, pointing out that a significant fraction of HHS's enrollment come from outside the city limits.

"Forty-two percent are county residents," he said. "You're not building and spending money for the city. You're spending it for all the kids because they're coming from everywhere." Now is the time to replace bleachers, restrooms and concessions stands, he said, because "if we don't do it now it ain't ever going to happen."

Four commissioners disagreed, voting to spend $2.14 million instead of the two options that would do the most work — at a cost of $3.34 million or $5.2 million. The more streamlined option gives the contractor the best chance of having the football field ready for the 2022 season. The option the board approved also includes shifting the field so that it does not border on the track, which experts say is a hazard.

Construction manager David Berry said based on commissioners' vote today, he would meet immediately with general contractor Vannoy to get "absolute numbers" on the cost so "as soon as that last football game is played (this fall) we can start."

Before they made the decision, commissioners heard from a nationally known expert that the stadium lights need major repairs.

Commissioner Rebecca McCall recruited her former boss at General Electric to analyze the stadium lighting. Michael Owen retired from General Electric five years ago and then went to work for Major League Baseball. $2,000 to $3,000 fixture. "As part of that I measured the lighting on all the ballfields in the country," he said. It costs around $5 million to relight a baseball stadium with LED lights but those are much more durable and less costly in terms of replacement, he said.

McCall also called on HHS principal Bobby Wilkins for his opinion on the leveling of the football field and track. Although the field and track have a slope that is greater than standard recommends, Wilkins said that's something the school could live with.

"The slope is something we've had forever," he said. "My parents were on it. They never knew it. I played on it and ran track and never knew it. I just don't see that as an option for Hendersonville High School." He recommended one of two options that did not include leveling the field. "It would save money also, which I think is important."

As for concession stands and restrooms, "I think those have to be looked at. I don't think it's a necessity as we speak because we've been doing it forever. I think it's something we've got to do but it's something we can work on and slowly get there."