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County says no to alumni-backed plan for HHS

Henderson County commissioners rejected a recommendation by the Henderson County School Board to move Edneyville Elementary School ahead of the Hendersonville High School in the construction schedule in a letter that also raises the possibility of closing the Edneyville school

The Board of Commissioners responded in a letter dated Oct. 11 to the School Board’s questions on the school construction plans and timetable.
The School Board members, like the commissioners, have been wrestling with the contentious debate over an all-new HHS versus new buildings along with a renovation of the historic core classroom building and auditorium. The School Board members now say a new Edneyville Elementary School is their top priority.
“A compelling case for the construction of a new elementary school simply has not been presented,” the letter said. Projections show enrollment declining by 110 students by the 2019-20 school year, the commissioners said. There’s enough capacity in contiguous school districts “to reassign all new students to other schools, raising doubts about the need for that school” and “certainly making the investment in a new ($24 million) facility questionable at the least.” Even if Edneyville remains, a $9.3 million renovation plan is the better option, the commissioners said.
In response to the School Board’s question about “a full renovation and integration of the historic Stillwell building” into the HHS construction, commissioners said that’s not an option either.
“The Board of Commissioners undertook a deliberate thoughtful approach when considering the facility,” the county said. After the study of five construction options and lengthy public discussions, commissioners voted unanimously on April 20 and again on Aug. 17 to proceed “with the option to provide the students at Hendersonville High School with a brand new, state of the art school, in a cost effective manner.”
As for how much funding is available for a Stillwell building renovation, the commissioners said that depends on the School Board’s determination of the core building’s use. Once the School Board decides what to do with the classroom building, the Board of Commissioners “will work within the financial constraints of the county and in conjunction with the Board of Education to fund the requested work as quickly as possible,” commissioners said. “We remain amenable to the concept of incorporating for use, such as classrooms and/or the auditorium, as your board deems appropriate as a complement to, but not in lieu of, the new state-of-the-art facility.”
Commissioners went on to say that, given inflation, it makes more sense to undertake the costliest projects first. Because of construction cost escalation, a new HHS campus costing $52.6 million in today’s dollars could cost $9 million to $30 million more by 2020, commissioners said.

“I think they are still where they were six months before we got involved,” HHS Alumni Association President Bill Orr said in response to the commissioners' letter. “They had their mind made up and they selected their plan — the people or the School Board be damned. They’re not going to change, they’re not going to listen.”
“They’re not going to change unless someone brings legal action,” he said, adding that the Alumni Association has no money for that option and he would not expect the School Board to take that action. “The problem is they forget that they’re supposed to serve the people and they sit up there and dictate to us.”

HHS alumnus Carey O’Cain, who has submitted a proposed a compromise design that uses the Stillwell building for classrooms, said he still disagrees with the new-school option as designed by the county’s architect based on safety, a poorly sited parking lot and cost.
“A friend had gotten a response from Bill Lapsley and I could read between the lines” that the commissioners remained committed to a new school.
Parking between the old dealership and the original HHS building is a bad idea, said O'Cain, a retired construction manager. “That just is one of the biggest no-no’s in architecture,” he said. “You do not put traffic between two facilities because of accidents that could take place.
“Bill Lapsley referred to the fact that he’s not aware of any vehicle crashing into the Boyd dealership,” he said. “My father-in-law, Bob Livingston, reminded me of three people that had been killed at Five Points and I was aware of two others besides those. By putting the parking between the two buildings they’re almost making it impossible for us to use the Stillwell building in the future. I don’t know what their vendetta is. It defies comprehension.”

O’Cain and Orr say many HHS graduates support School Board candidate Blair Craven in hopes that the HHS graduate will lead the fight for the Stillwell option.
“We are all in favor of Blair getting elected,” O’Cain said. “I think that would be good. I hope that the Board of Education has enough backbone to stand up to the Board of Commissioners to take back control of that is rightfully theirs.”
“The BOE just needs to assume their authority.