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Bearcat Nation fights for school

HHS alumni raise their hands to show support for one of the options for school renovation. HHS alumni raise their hands to show support for one of the options for school renovation.

Shannon Meadows Allison stood up in Hendersonville High School’s auditorium, a beloved place for HHS alumni, and explained why she hopes county leaders preserve the core of the school.

“My great-grandmother Mary Justice was in the first graduating class, when it was another campus,” she said. “My grandmother Sarah McCall and my grandfather John Meadows were high school sweethearts here.” Her father, Ted Meadows, and her aunt are both HHS graduates. Allison said she expects her 2-year-old son to attend HHS, along with her daughter, named Myrick Meadows Allison, who is due on Jan. 6.
Allison’s comments were echoed by more than a dozen other people when the local contingent of the Bearcat Nation congregated on Wednesday night to watch a presentation about HHS construction options and express the strong feeling that the county should save the school's history and tradition by preserving the original 1926 building.
About 225 HHS graduates, parents of graduates, teachers and faculty members came to the auditorium Wednesday night to see a presentation by an architect who has presented the School Board and Board of Commissioners with five options for school construction.
“None of the options said anything about demo-ing this building,” schools Superintendent David Jones said. “Only one of the five options talks about not using this building for students.”
Chad Roberson, the county’s consulting architect, held up a sign that said “Messenger” in red letters with an arrow pointing straight down at his head.
“None of this has been decided,” he said. “We are at 10,000 feet. We are looking at parachute elevation right now."

Using a slide show, Roberson described five construction options ranging from a new school on the old Boyd auto dealership property, which is now owned by the county, to a renovation of the existing building that would take five years. “The number of phases is very important,” he said. “It costs money to phase construction like this.”
Part of his firm’s obligation to the county, he said, is to evaluate the true cost of work.
“This building has inherent risks in it,” he said. “I promise you when we tear into this building we will find things that we didn’t know existed.”
The alumni and faculty said even if the cost of renovation is high, it’s worth paying to preserve a tradition and spirit that are inextricably tied to the old brick building with wide stairwells, small classrooms and an auditorium with Bearcat red drapes where students learn "Hail to the Red and White" as freshmen, laugh together at the senior play and cry together at Move Up.
“One of the things I’d like to mention is I think there’s a great deal more than sentiment involved,” Walt Cottingham, a veteran world geography teacher, said. “I’m going to be partly scientific and partly mystical. I think that this building, this room, serves as a concrete, specific, essential education function that doesn’t fit the modern standards of DPI (the state Department of Public Instruction). I think this building has some really special education function that goes beyond nostalgia and I think we should preserve it as a classroom building if there’s any way to do it.”
“I think it’s a little hard to understand for people that haven’t been a part of it,” Cottingham said.
Everyone in the room had been a part of it — either as a student, teacher or parent — and they applauded speaker after speaker who called for preserving the school building for HHS classrooms.
“This place has a sense of family,” said Molly Flexon, a sharp-penciled essay grader who has taught English at HHS for 15 years. “This physical building matters. It is part of us. It is family. If you don’t use this building for education you might as well cut off (principal) Bobby Wilkins’ right arm because the man will never be the same. You lose a sense of place. It’s as though you’re fractured. You are dislocated.”
Alan Broadhurst, a history and U.S. government teacher, stood up and said, “I didn’t go to school here. I wish I had.”
But his mother-in-law did. “This is my daughter, Jensen,” he said, pointing to the HHS junior. “She gets to walk the same halls and sit in the same classroom every day that her grandmother walked in and sat in. She sits in the same auditorium where her grandmother went to Move Up.” Jensen’s grandmother is Charmian McCullough, class of ’49.
County Commissioner Michael Edney, a second generation HHS graduate, sat in the back of the room and listened until the school leaders called him up to speak.

“No decisions have been made,” he said. “We would like to see something done sooner rather than later for a lot of reasons, one being if we don’t do something now it may never happen. There’s $100 million (in construction) we’re talking about now and there’s another half a billion dollars we need to be talking about at least and that’s just education. … My personal opinion is we don’t have any of the right options on the screen. I think it’s a combination.”
In a show of hands, the audience voted overwhelmingly for the option that preserves the classroom building for use by HHS and replaces the two gyms, band room and cafeteria with new facilities.
“The position has been said very clearly,” said Wilkins, the school principal. “If you’re going to build a new building over there call it South Henderson or something else. It’s not Hendersonville High School.”

Bearcats stood and applauded, and someone launched into the alma mater. "Loyal and eager stand we now," they sang, "Pledged to the Red and White."