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Put Edneyville ahead of HHS, School Board says

Members of the Hendersonville High School Alumni Association on Monday night exhorted the Henderson County School Board to assert its authority to guide the future of HHS and stand by the plan it originally sent to the Board of Commissioners last spring.

Taking their case directly to the School Board for the first time since the Board of Commissioners rejected a School Board recommendation to renovate the historic core classroom building, the graduates and other supporters of Stillwell building renovation said it’s up to the School Board, not the commissioners, to guide school facility design.

“The Board of Commisioners can only decide if they will appropriate the cost and if they will fund your proposal,” said HHS Alumni Association President Bill Orr. “The Board of Commissioners have no authority to dictate what you may or may not do with the facilities under your management. They also may not dictate to you what your priorities are. We humbly request that you assert your responsibility and take back your authority, which has been usurped by the Henderson County Board of Commissioners.”

Despite the strong views of the HHS graduates, School Board members said they were a long way from being able to recommend how the historic core building would be incorporated into a construction. They said they had too many questions. And a majority of the School Board members said they favored freezing HHS discussion for now and making an Edneyville Elementary School replacement the higher priority for construction. Twice before, the School Board members said, they had sent up a priority list showing the new career academy and a new Edneyville Elementary as No. 1 and 2 on the facilities list.

“Our first prior is Edneyville Elementary School,” Amy Holt said. “That’s always been a priority. (The letter should say) we simply aren’t going to move on the HHS until we start building Edneyville Elementary. That school is unsafe. We put that on the top of our list and it’s being ignored.”

"We've got to get it right," board member Rick Wood said of the HHS plan, "and if takes a little longer, we hope it will be there a long long time and we'd be a part of getting it right and not wishing we had done something else."

County Manager Steve Wyatt sent a letter on Aug. 26 to schools Superintendent Bo Caldwell laying out a framework to bring the Stillwell building into the overall construction plan. That followed a letter from Board of Commissioners Chair Tommy Thompson, on Aug. 17. School Board members said they had questions about how much money county commissioners were willing to commit to the Stillwell building.

"If we're going to use the Stillwell building I want it to be an integral part of Hendersonville High School," said School Board member Mary Louise Corn. "I want us to send them a letter what we are willing to do."

The Stillwell building advocates brought something of a ringer, through Chris Stepp, a Hendersonville attorney and HHS graduate. Stepp read a letter from HHS graduate Bob Orr, whose mother was in the first HHS class to graduate at the Stillwell building. A lawyer for 40 years, Orr, HHS class of 1964, served for eight years on the North Carolina Court of Appeals and 10 years on the state Supreme Court.

State law, Orr said, gives clear authority to School Boards to control and direct school construction projects. “County commissioners are required to provide funding for new construction and renovationa ultimately selected and prioritized by the local school board,” said Orr, who also has represented the N.C. School Boards Association, the state Board of Education and the superintendent of public instruction. "But it is the local board that has the sole responsbility to select plans, prioritze the timing of projects and move forward with the construction and renovation of those projects."
Carey O’Cain, the retired construction project bidder and manager, presented his proposed construction plan, the same one the Board of Commissioners saw during a lengthy discussion of the HHS construction plan last month.
“It’s a synthesis of the Clark Nexsen plan and the Alumni Association plan,” he said. His plan, he said, is safer, costs less, preserves the Stillwell building for continued use as classrooms, accommodates future enrollment growth, includes 180 parking spaces and includes two gyms.
“It’s in the budget guidelines,” O’Cain added. “Probably one of the most important aspects is that it requires no temporary trailer classrooms. None.”