Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

Board orders new review of HHS renovation cost

Henderson County commissioners decided on Wednesday to delay any decision on Hendersonville High School while getting a more detailed estimate of renovation costs.

Two commissioners said after tours of the 90-year-old building that they want to see an in-depth projection of renovation cost. There’s no hurry to decide on the fate of HHS, they said, because the county has other projects ahead of that and a finite amount of money they can spend.

Commissioner Bill Lapsley toured HHS with the county’s construction manager, David Berry, and John Mitchell, the county’s director of business and community development.
“To be honest I thought it was in better shape than what I expected to see,” said Lapsley, a civil engineer with more than 40 years experience. “For a building that’s 90 years old it was in pretty decent shape.” That surprised him, he said, “because listening to Commissioner Edney in his presentation a month or so ago kind of led me to believe that the building was about to fall down. I’m not a building contractor but I do think with some engineering background I look at it a little differently than the average person.”
Renovation of the 1926 core classroom building and auditorium has been a hotly debated topic. Hendersonville High School alumni, the school faculty and current students have argued for preserving the Erle Stilwell-designed building, saying the classrooms and the auditorium are closely tied to the school’s tradition. Renovation is one of five options the county’s consulting architect, ClarkNexsen, has proposed for the high school and the associated buildings. Other options involve building a new school on the site of the old Boyd auto dealership, which the county owns, and plans that combine renovation and new construction.
“I think the commissioners need to thoroughly vet the options to decide,” Lapsley added. “To me, you’ve either got to tear it down or use it as it exists today or you’ve got to rehabilitate it. If you rehabilitate it do you keep using it as a school or do you use it as something else. That’s a key question. I’m recommending that we get into a little more in-depth review of that 1926 building and hire an expert contractor to go through it and give us their cost on what it would cost to renovate the building.”

During a daylong budget retreat on Wednesday, Lapsley presented responses he had received from two general contractors who said they would make the cost projections. The board agreed to hire Vannoy Contractors, the same builder that is erecting the $30 million health sciences center on the Pardee Hospital campus. Vannoy said it would first provide an overall review of the structure at no charge. It would then deliver estimates by a structural engineer and would estimate the cost of the outside rehabilitation, safety code compliance, asbestos removal and other work.

Vannoy officials said that the contractor would review original 1924 building plans and would review plans for renovations and major repairs in 1990, 1991 and 2007.

"We are confident given our local presence, local professional contacts and extensive background in historical renovations both as general contractor and construction manager that we can provide Henderson County with a concise review of possible options and associated cost estimates," Brian Walker of Vannoy Construction said.

Vannoy said it would provide estimates for renovation of the core classroom and auditorium both for educational use and for "business occupancy."

Although ClarkNexsen presented a projected renovation cost for the 1926 building, Hawkins and Lapsley say the number is soft.
“That cost number is a critical,” Lapsley said before Wednesday's meeting. “We have a number from them. In that same meeting I asked the architect what his basis for that number was and I really didn’t get a very solid answer. I’m not comfortable making a $50-60 million decision based on that response.”
The HHS project would come after a career academy combining Balfour programs and the Early College. That project at BRCC is already in design. HHS could be behind Edneyville Elementary and a new $12 million emergency services headquarters in the timeline the commissioners approve. Groundbreaking is far from imminent.
“We’ve got time,” Lapsley said. “Moving ahead with whatever option the board decides is a couple of years down the road. That was one reason I wanted to go through the building. Some have painted a picture like the building is a health hazard for the kids. I wanted to see if the 1926 building was presenting some kind of hazard. Frankly, I didn’t see it.”

From his tour of the building, Commissioner Grady Hawkins said he saw plenty that needed fixing.
“It certainly is in need of some repairs and some adjustments,” he said. “We went through underneath. I guess there’s like a spring underneath. It just generally is in need of repair. One of the things that will be on the agenda (Wednesday) is that we went back and asked couple of contractors to take a closer look to see what it would cost to make a reasonable renovation of it. We have a partial number. The information that will be forthcoming from these folks is in a lot more detail than what ClarkNexsen gave us.”

County Manager Steve Wyatt is aware of commissioners’ desire to gather more information before deciding the next step for HHS.
“I have no indication that it will be made,” he said. “I would be surprised. I do not anticipate anything other a continued discussion and a thoughtful process.”
Wyatt compared the school decision to the board’s reaction to the Duke Energy transmission line. The board moved deliberately and cautiously “and took criticism for that,” he said. “They want us much information as possible to make especially big decisions.”

In some ways, a consolidated emergency services headquarters would be an easier call. That project is expected to be new construction in a site that does not currently houses the ambulance service, emergency management office or rescue squad. Nothing would be disrupted.
“The next imminent project is the emergency services headquarters,” he said. “We’ll have a presentation of the timeline by the architect and the board will decide whether they’re willing to say OK, we’re good with that. Then it becomes a contract with the architect.
HHS Alumni Association say they’re remaining vigilant about the future of the school and they’re encouraged that the commissioners are listening to them and taking a closer look at the options.
“I think that right now the commissioners are doing the right thing,” said Bill Orr, the new president of the HS Alumni Association and a retired banker. “I think they’re taking their time and trying to get better information. You’ve got to find out what the contractors are going to do and how you’re going to finish it. I think what they’re doing is trying to figure out what the real cost might be.”
Orr and Boren both said from their conversations it appeared that people were misled about the cost.
“A lot of people think that the $53 million was just for that building instead of being for an entire new campus,” Orr said.
That projection, from ClarkNexsen, covers renovation of the core building plus demolition and replacement of the old and new gyms, the vocational-tech building, the band room and the cafeteria.
“I know that the students’ safety is the utmost importance during the construction period,” he said. That may account for why the architects estimated the renovation option would 47 months. “One of the things is you’re going to have from the end of May to around Labor Day when you’re not even going to have students there,” he said, adding that the time frame could be shorter. “I think the commissioners are being judicious at looking at the cost” while also juggling other capital projects. “I don’t know that they would want to do them all at once,” he said. “They’ve got a lot on their plate.”
“Whatever happens we still hope the renovation will house classes and the auditorium” and not some other use, said Carolyn Borman, who as immediate past president of the Alumni Association has been tracking the debate for several months. “We are interested in keeping that intact. We respect the position of the School Board and the county commissioners. They have a lot on their plate to consider and we’re aware of that. We also want to be part of the discussion and look at the options and make suggestions that will work for everybody. We’re still talking to commissioners and interested in coming up with a plan that will be feasible and good for the students and for the county commissioners.”