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Report boosts prospects for saving historic HHS building

The chance that the historic core building at Hendersonville High School will be renovated — and not demolished or abandoned as classrooms — got a boost on Wednesday when construction experts delivered a report showing that the building is structurally sound.

It would cost $13.5 million to rehabilitate the 1925 classroom building and auditorium, a figure that came in at about the same level as a new building. The commissioners have been trying to decide between five construction options for Hendersonville High School, including saving the old building, building an all-new high school and a combination of new construction and renovation. Current students and faculty at HHS and the school's Alumni Association have strongly urged the commissioners to save the historic core building and auditorium, saying that traditions like Move Up and the senior play and design features like the wide stairwells and Bearcat red auditorium seats are a crucial part of the school's culture and value.
“One option is to tear it down if it’s not going to be a part of the future campus of HHS,” said Commissioner Bill Laplsey, a civil engineer who spearheaded the effort to get a solid cost estimate for renovation. “That’s an option we have the responsibility to consider. An additional option is to renovate, bring it up to current code … and we’ve got an obligation to review that option carefully. That is really the main purpose of this report.”
Vannoy Construction, the contractor building the $30 million Health Sciences Center on the Pardee Hospital campus, produced the lengthy, detailed report at no charge to the county. The report recommended a major renovation, including a new roof, complete replacement of the auditorium seating and all new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems in the building, which was designed by the well-known Hendersonville architect Erle Stillwell and opened in 1926.
“For the most part it appears to me that the main structure — if you will, the bone structure — is in reasonably good shape for its age,” Lapsley said. “It has issues but it’s in reasonably good shape and it can be rehabilitated.” He had seen other old buildings “where the bone structure is not good and it’s not worth the money to put into it to bring it up to code," he added.
If the cost at $14 million is roughly the same as a new building, the commissioners ought to weigh tradition and history as a factor, Lapsley said.
“If there’s not some gigantic savings (in the new construction option), that’s where I think history and local feeling has to come into play,” he said.
Commissioner Charlie Messer pointed out that the public was not universally in favor of the renovation of the Historic Courthouse before commissioners came up with the money and saw through a project that the community now points to with pride.

"We're going through a thoughtful deliberate process," Chairman Tommy Thompson said. "We're not knee-jerking ... We're giving consideration to every scenario that might be out there. ... I had anticipated this was going to be a whole lot worse than what you're saying it is."

School Board Chairman Ervin Bazzle thanked the Board of Commissioners and Vannoy for producing a more detailed report that would help decision-makers move ahead.

"We were talking about things we were guessing about," School Board Chairman Ervin Bazzle said. "We can do a lot better with facts and we can deal with the situation."
The Vannoy Construction report recommended a renovation that would include:

  • A new roof, replacement of exterior walls and a gutting and replacement of the interior. Replacement of the existing outside fire escape stairs with an enclosed stair tower.
  • Replacement and reconfiguration of the auditorium seating to meet regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Replacement of all mechanical and electrical plumbing, which Vannoy’s Brian Walker said had reached “the end of its useful life.”

The contractor also recommended the county order yet another, even more detailed analysis on the outside wall structure, energy engineering, "life safety code" issues and design programming before proceeding with a renovation bid.

Commissioners took no formal action, preferring to read the report and take up the question during a meeting next month.