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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Preserve HHS building for HHS

Historic marker describes Hendersonville High School. Historic marker describes Hendersonville High School.

Leaving a Henderson County Board of Commissioners meeting last week, Hall Waddell tried to digest the discussion about Hendersonville High School. One might have gathered from the scary looking estimates on the time and cost of a renovation that the 89-year-old building is beyond salvation.

“The building we’re standing in,” Waddell observed, “is 100 years old.”
A hundred and ten, to be exact.
Waddell’s comment aptly highlighted the disconnect between our elected leaders and the local people have a deep personal connection to Hendersonville High School. In sports, arts and academics, HHS competes with three other public high schools in Henderson County, each with its own following, fan base and traditions. But because East Henderson, West Henderson and North Henderson are all much newer, they can’t match HHS either in their traditions or their alumni base.
Henderson County’s consulting architect, Chad Roberson, gave an impressively detailed report last week on HHS and what it would cost to bring it up to date.
Established in 1901, Hendersonville High School was first located at Fleming Street and Third Avenue. The main building of HHS today, dedicated on Dec. 3, 1926, contains classrooms, administration and the auditorium. The campus also has two gyms, a cafeteria, a music building and a vocational-ed wing.
Everyone knows that HHS is old. So is the Parthenon. But whether HHS is obsolete, as the architect’s analysis suggests, is a matter that the School Board and county commissioners should debate with a lot more vigor.
Using standards put out by the state Department of Public Instruction, Roberson showed that the existing 132,000 square feet is under the recommended total of 150,000 square feet. HHS has the correct number of classrooms, though they should be 25 percent larger. The theater program is 30 percent bigger than “required.” The phys-ed program is 50 percent bigger than the DPI standard (not surprising, since the school has a spare gym). The 2,150-square-foot library is well below the 10,000 square feet DPI recommends (though we have to wonder whether the state bureaucrats formed the recommendation back when we read books instead of tablets). The administration office needs to be twice as big and the guidance office needs to be four times bigger, DPI says.
How important are these numbers really? Does it matter that drama teacher Todd Weakley has more space than DPI “requires” and that principal Bobby Wilkins has less? No. Does it matter that HHS fills the auditorium for three nights every spring for a senior play that started back in the ’20s? Yes.
Roberson’s report devotes a single phrase to the historic value of the core building, pledging (in the 10th of 11 goals listed) to “honor the existing classroom building.”
The existing classroom building and auditorium is the core of HHS and that core ought to be preserved as HHS in fact and in function.
If it’s Henderson County Magnet School or Henderson County Arts Academy or Henderson County Yoga and Basketry Center, the historic and locally meaningful building on Bearcat Boulevard will no longer be Hendersonville High School. We’d hate to suffer the fate of the elected leaders who make that their legacy.