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County eyes HHS outside city, or no HHS

A new Hendersonville High School outside the city or no Hendersonville High School at all are among the options the Henderson County Board of Commissioners may consider if the City Council rejects a rezoning permit for HHS construction, the county manager said.

In the latest salvo in the two-year battle over the future of HHS, county commissioners say they would look at options outside the city or even a plan to absorb the HHS student body at three other publc high schools if the City Council turns down a rezoning permit on May 4.

"We're trying to identify whatever options are out there should the City Council turn down the rezoning," County Manager Steve Wyatt said Thursday. Other options include adding space to one or more of four other high schools or contracting with charter schools to add seats for HHS students. Another is buying property outside the city and building a new school.

"It's not as simple as adding classrooms," he said. "You've got core capacity," which is the capacity of common areas everyone uses like the lunchroom, library and gym.

"The other option was trying to find a place in the city," he said. That route raises a couple of other hurdles. Land in the city is expensive and it's hard to find a big enough tract. And any project in the city would still require the rezoning approval of the City Council. "We'll be right back where we are right here," Wyatt said. "So the other option is you look outside the zoning jurisdicton of the city."

Chairman Michael Edney confirmed the board's decision to explore other options that it could act on if the city council votes no on the county's zoning request.

"We’re looking at keeping all options open," Edney said. "We hope they do right thing but if not we need to be ready. We’re not going to identify them until we have options or something like that."

The state Department of Public Instruction recommends 50 acres for a high school campus.

In an interview on WLOS-TV, which first reported the county's decision to look at other locations for HHS on Wednesday, City Councilman Ron Stephens described the move as a threat.

"I hate that anyone would take what we’re saying as any kind of threat or trying to intimidate or influence," Edney said. "But it’s important that parents know we’re putting the kids first and we’re going to do something to address the need. We’re going to focus on the kids and what’s best for them. Mr. Stephens made the comment about this being political suicide. I'm doing what's best for the kids. I make my decision based on what’s the right thing and not on politics."

Wyatt said building a new HHS at the current school campus is still the commissioners' preferred outcome.

"They're hopeful, I'm hopeful, that the city council will approve this plan because it's the best plan," he said. "It's not a perfect plan. It's the best plan."

Wyatt said he read in the minutes that the Planning Board recommended the city council deny a rezoning permit on the grounds that the Boyd property was the wrong place for the new school as designed. If that's true, he said, the county should look for another location.

"After the Planning Board meeting, I talked to commissioners individually and we talked about some of these options," he said. "You can always throw up your hands and walk away but that doesn't solve the problem. What it is is contingency planning."