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Bulldozing Stillwell is an option

Demolishing the historic HHS auditorium and classroom building was one idea floated at a School Board meeting. Demolishing the historic HHS auditorium and classroom building was one idea floated at a School Board meeting.


Eight months after School Board members declared their support for saving the historic core of Hendersonville High School even as they endorsed new construction, the idea of bulldozing the old school landed on the table for discussion.

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School Board member Blair Craven said during a planning meeting last month that razing the 91-year-old structure is an option the county should consider.
Craven, the only HHS graduate on the board, voted no when the School Board voted 4-2 in favor of a new $52 million school campus that does not include the existing classroom building and auditorium. When the Board of Commissioners made its final vote authorizing the project, it directed the School Board to find a use for the historic building.
“Now it’s our job to figure it out,” Craven said.
Board members talked about a ninth grade academy, STEM program, magnet school, arts center, pre-K classrooms, apartments, central office and other ideas in what Craven called a “brainstorming” discussion last month.
“It’s my job as an elected official to look at everything,” he said. “So I did bring up the idea of razing the building. That’s not what I want to do.”
Among the ideas talked about if that ground is cleared were tennis courts, an indoor pool and a baseball stadium. (It was decided the space was too small for baseball.)
Many of the options have serious minuses, board members said in interviews this week with the Hendersonville Lightning.
Any use that brings more daytime traffic immediately compounds a parking shortage. Mixing small children on a campus with high school kids is not considered ideal. And any use that brings “outsiders” to campus is also considered risky. One of the features of the new school is that it will have “lockdown” ability in case of threats from outside.
“It’s not going to be used for Hendersonville High School because that’s already been voted on,” Craven said of the Stillwell building. The historic building will be used for HHS until August of 2020 or the following January. After that, Craven said, it could be used as a temporary space for Bruce Drysdale and Hendersonville elementary schools while they undergo major renovations.
“If you add it up it could be potentially six to 10 years down the road by the time that is finished and then you really have to get down to what do you use that school for,” Craven said. “Then it comes down to, do we want to use that school and have that building there regardless of what it is, or do we want that building-slash whole property for the use of Hendersonville High School. I am not here to tear down the building at all. Reasonable use of it makes sense. I have not found that use yet. Saying that I just want to raze the building is not true. … We need to discuss every option and then eliminate those options that aren’t going to work.”
School Board member Rick Wood said he was stunned by Craven’s suggestion.
“Of course no votes were taken and so far there doesn’t seem to be any coalescing around any idea,” he said. “I was a little surprised that one of the options thrown out for discussion would eventually mean tearing down the Stilwell building. We shouldn’t be talking about tearing it down.”
School Board members who voted for new construction also committed to preserving the Stillwell building.
“We pledged to do that,” Wood said. “If we’re going to have any credibility we need to be people of our word. It shocked me.”
Colby Coren said his vote for new construction came with a pledge to save the historic core building and auditorium.
“I don’t think it was anything legal or binding but I do think that was at least verbalized,” he said. His intention was “to preserve it, not only to utilize but to preserve the history as well. I would love to find a way that we can preserve the building inside and out.”
He thinks it would work to consolidate the central office and the school system’s technology functions (now housed at the old Mills River Elementary School) in the Stillwell building.
“I understand about no outsiders but this would be school employees,” Coren said. “A big issue is parking. That would definitely have to be addressed. It’s still up in the air but I will continue to be on board with saving Stillwell.”
Clearing the land is “an option, but not anything any of us have decided,” Board Chair Amy Lynn Holt said. “Personally, I would like for that to be kept as part of Hendersonville High’s campus. Right now it is situated too far from the (new) building to be used as part of the campus. Mr. (Bobby) Wilkins (the HHS principal) strongly feels like he cannot safely get kids from one building to another and have them supervised back and forth.”
When School Board members asked county administrators whether the new building could be moved closer, they were told “it would put too much delay and cost too much money to have that all redrawn,” Holt said.
Central office “is the only thing I can even wrap my head around being in that building,” she said. “It’s something school oriented.”
She guesses that the public might have ideas that no one has thought of and invited constituents to email those ideas to her. (The email is aholt@championcomfortexperts.com.)
“What would your ideal picture look like and I still don’t have an answer.
“My thought was I would like to hear from the community what they would like to see put there,” she said. “I’m just at a loss. I think all of us are. … Ask your friends, family members, parents, teachers. We’re not making a decision today or tomorrow or next month.”