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GUEST COLUMN: Keep Stillwell on a ‘cohesive campus’

The Henderson County Board of Education, BOE, is struggling to figure out the purpose for the Historic Stillwell Building once the new Hendersonville High School is completed, according to the discussion at the last BOE monthly meeting.

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For preservation and future repurposing, this iconic structure must be saved!
Many HHS alumni are disappointed that the Stillwell Building was not properly incorporated into the new campus. When questions arise concerning the master plan decisions, it is helpful to refer to the mission statement of the design. The mission statement of the architect for the project, Clark Nexsen, states clearly that “Design priorities include retaining athletic fields and the historic Stillwell auditorium, further reducing buildable area.” The architect continues with “locating the building and providing required adjacencies with existing building, while holistically repurposing the entire site, is paramount.” The architect’s mission statement makes it clear that Stillwell Building should be an integral part of the entire campus.
Unfortunately, the new campus is substantially disconnected from the Stillwell Building ….360 to 580 feet from the closest points. Usain Bolt would have a difficult time making it from one classroom to another within the allotted 3-minute class change schedule. Students would also have to negotiate the difficult and unsafe parking and roadway circulation areas between the two buildings. Let us remember that the Board of Commissioners overruled the Board of Education when the commissioners decided not to incorporate the Stillwell Building into the campus. This decision was made despite budget estimates provided by three general contractors that the entire project including renovation could be built for substantially less than $50 million.
Now, where does the budget stand? An updated budget report has not been provided to the public recently. We have no doubt that the County’s not to exceed budget of $52,600,000 has been exceeded with the acquisition of new property for student offsite parking, restoration repairs to the existing school and athletic field improvements similar to the other county high schools.

Taxpayer dollars
The iconic Stillwell Building is one of the most significant buildings in Henderson County. It stands along with other significant structures such as City Hall, the Historic Courthouse, St. James Episcopal Church, the Waverly Inn, the Train Depot and St. John in the Wilderness. Thankfully, due to the recent roof replacement, chiller work and exit stairway work, the BOC has assured us that they do not intend to demolish Stillwell. The BOC has made this effort and that effort is greatly appreciated!
The Stillwell building is historically and architecturally significant to Henderson County and to suggest that it should be torn down and replaced with tennis courts or an aquatic center is horrifying. Would we really consider adding more congestion onto the smallest campus in the county? Put an aquatic center onto the Balfour/Berkeley Mills property as earlier suggested. Not on the HHS campus! One of the key considerations relative to whom or what should go into Stillwell must consider safety, security and parking. Offices, apartments or condominiums would impose additional vehicles and unscreened adults onto a school campus, which would lead to an unsafe and unsecured student area. This is not acceptable.

So, what can we do?
Option one: It is still possible to utilize the Stillwell Auditorium for student use as was suggested by architect, Clark Nexsen. Plays, lectures and assemblies could be held there. A new auditorium would not be required. The existing auditorium could be modernized and expanded to accommodate seating for 1000 seats, which would eliminate the need for a new auditorium on the Boyd property and save taxpayer money. This will help save a run-a-way budget.
Option two: Be patient. A cohesive campus must emerge. The need and use will become apparent as our student population continues to grow. As the county’s architect, Clark Nexsen states on their website, “Arts and athletic elements form an exterior courtyard which frames student entry while connecting the Stillwell building, forming a cohesive campus.” Architects are very creative professionals. Allow this architect to return to his defined objective of “providing required adjacencies with existing building, while holistically repurposing the entire site is paramount.”
Let us remember from inception the key words in design consideration are “cohesive campus,” “required adjacencies” and “repurposing of the entire site is paramount.”
Carey O’Cain, a 1968 graduate of Hendersonville High School, is a retired construction company director of design development and division manager.