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Responding to demands from both the School Board and the apple country, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners voted on Tuesday to fast-track a new $25 million Edneyville Elementary School, authorizing financing and a construction schedule that would result in a new school for the 2018-19 school year.
The unanimous vote came less than three hours into the commissioners’ first look at budget issues for the fiscal year starting July 1, a planning session that usually ends with broad strokes and not direct immediate action.
County Manager Steve Wyatt presented a solution to the concerns raised by Edneyville parents, who have been saying the community has waited long enough for a replacement of the aging school, and the School Board, which has insisted that Edneyville Elementary, and not Hendersonville High School, is its highest priority among building projects.
By taking action immediately, the Board of Commissioners seemed to have taken off the table part of the argument of its critics — that it had unlawfully overruled the School Board when it rejected the School Board’s preferred HHS design and when it moved HHS ahead of Edneyville. Under the plan Wyatt presented, Edneyville would be on an unusually fast design and construction schedule. Design would start immediately and the school would open for the 2019-20 school year, one year before the new HHS is scheduled to be finished.
Conflict between supporters of a renovated Hendersonville High School and the commissioners, who have decided on what they call an all new “state of the art” school, has driven the debate over school construction for a year.
Commissioner Tommy Thompson, who was chair during most of that period, delivered a harsh condemnation of the HHS Alumni Association and three Hendersonville City Council members.
“I am concerned with what’s going to happen with the city of Hendersonville” when it takes up a rezoning request for the new HHS, he said. “We as a board represent Henderson County. We don’t represent the city of Hendersonville and we do have responsibility to provide appropriate facilities for schools.”
Critics have misled the public, he said, by suggesting that the commissioners are going to let the historic Stillwell building decay and fall down when in fact the board has committed $1 million in immediate repair work and invited the School Board to recommend a use for the 90-year-old building.
“Why does this small group of people (on the Alumni Association), who have no taxing power, taking the county commissioners and city of Hendersonville and running them down like they’re doing?”
Critics are unaware, he went on, of the many meetings and discussions about HHS and how best to serve its students.
“Everything that has gone on, there has been meetings after meetings trying to come up with some kind of solution so that everybody can be pleased,” he said.
At a School Board meeting on Dec. 12, City Councilman Ron Stephens accused the commissioners of bullying the School Board. He urged the School Board to stand its ground in support of a renovation plan. Meanwhile, the Hendersonville Lightning reported on Jan. 4 that Mayor Barbara Volk had lobbied School Board members to vote no on the all-new construction plan. City Council member Jerry Smith, a teacher at HHS, also has expressed opposition to the commissioners’ plan, Thompson said.
“You have three council members who have already placed themselves in position where they need quite frankly to recuse themselves,” he said. He said only a court could decide whether the remaining two — Jeff Miller and Steve Caraker — could make the decision by themselves. Volk and Stephens both said their statements before the School Board vote would not prevent them from remaining neutral when they hear a rezoning request from the county.
“If they want to stand behind what their advice is from their attorney and say ‘I’m doing nothing wrong’ then I quite frankly sit here questioning their ethics,” Thompson said. “Bottom line I hope and pray that we can build something that will accommodate our students and that will give them the best education we can possibly give them and that we can move on. It needs to come to closure, we need to move forward and we need to take care of our children and educate them in the best way we possibly can.”