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School and county leaders celebrate new HHS

Henderson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bill Lapsley cuts a ribbon celebrating the new Hendersonville High School campus. Henderson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bill Lapsley cuts a ribbon celebrating the new Hendersonville High School campus.

Hendersonville High School Principal Bobby Wilkins cleared up one thing for the crowd gathered Wednesday in the courtyard of the new Hendersonville High School campus.

Henderson County Manager John Mitchell had joked earlier at the ribbon cutting ceremony that he struggled to understand what a bearcat is. Mitchell’s young daughter told him it was a cross between bear and a cat.
Wilkins begged to differ.
A bearcat, he said, is “strong as a bear and quick as a cat. I’ve known that since I was born.”
Wilkins joined about 200 guests — including fellow Bearcats Blair Craven, who is the county’s school board chairman, and County Commissioner Michael Edney — to celebrate the opening of the new school campus in time for the start of the 2022-2023 school year.
“Is this not beautiful? Is this not great?” he said shortly before Henderson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bill Lapsley cut a red ribbon to mark the opening.
Many in the crowd broke out singing the school’s alma mater, "Hail to the Red and White," after Lapsley cut the ribbon.
A $62 million investment by the board of commissioners, the new campus includes 82,000 square feet of renovated space plus a new gym and the 115,000-square-foot Campbell Boyd Building.
The project preserved and renovated the historic Stillwell building and auditorium, established a new building with 21st century classroom space and reworked the campus layout for increased security. It also ultimately included athletic field upgrades corresponding with the public school system’s other three traditional high schools’ fields. As part of the new school, Dietz Field now has new artificial turf, a new rubberized track and a new press box.
County commissioners, school board members and school administrators attended the celebration along with former students and officials involved with the construction project.
Several speakers joked about the often contentious, years-long process that led to the new campus.
County commissioners and school board members began discussing the project in 2015. Over the next several years, the two boards disagreed often over how to best proceed with the project.
But once an agreement was finally struck, the project was slated for completion in August 2023. The project moved ahead of schedule in 2020 and 2021 when remote learning because of Covid-19 forced students off campus.
Craven drew laughter from the crowd when he said the school’s construction was “known as the least divisive project in Henderson County history.”
On a more serious note, Craven said many people eventually came together to make the new campus happen.
“We got this project done a year early, which is unheard of in government construction,” he said.
Edney, a 1978 graduate of the school, and Commissioner Rebecca McCall, an East Henderson High School graduate, both said they respect the history of Hendersonville High and want the new campus to serve as a place for new history and memories.
“I’m grateful for the past and our future,” Edney said, noting that he, his father, his children and other relatives all attended the school.
Wilkins led a tour of the new campus after the ribbon cutting. Recent graduates joined others who attended the school years ago to see what was changed and what remained the same after the construction project.
At one point in the tour, Wilkins stopped to recognize one of those interested former students.
Sharon Powell Johnson, an 81-year-old 1959 graduate, holds a Hendersonville High record for scoring the most points during a girls’ basketball game in the school’s old gymnasium. Powell scored 44 points in the game.
As she strolled through the new halls and renovated classrooms, the Hendersonville resident stopped to look out a window overlooking the football field’s new press box.
Johnson said it made her happy to see that the press box sits atop stones salvaged from the old gym and that the letters HHS can be seen in the rockwork.
“I love this place,” she said.