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Pricetag gap reignites furor over HHS

The latest flashpoint in a contentious three-year path to a Hendersonville High School replacement has revived calls for a renovation plan instead of new construction and spilled over into the general election campaign for the seat held by the chairman of Board of Commissioners.

A year after the Hendersonville City Council made what looked to be the final vote to authorize construction of a new school, county officials told School Board members that two key parts of the plan — a second gym and a 900-seat auditorium — are not included in the $52 million pricetag. When the county asked the School Board to make a new request for an extra $11 million for those two buildings, the School Board balked, saying they felt deceived by county commissioners and the project architect. Instead, they demanded a face-to-face meeting with the commissioners. Commissioners agreed. The two boards will meet Thursday at 3 p.m. to try and resolve the funding dispute and agree on a way forward on the HHS project.
Carey O’Cain, a retired construction company executive with years of construction management experience, called for a new look at his proposal to preserve the historic Stillwell building and auditorium.
“I would say the opponents to the proposed plan have known for long time that the budget was way more than $53 million,” he said. “We knew that it was in the 60s. If the board of commissioners didn’t want to acknowledge that, I don’t understand that. I was in the meeting when they asked does this include 900-seat auditorium and an extra gym. They said it would cost $10 million more. We knew it. Why the hell didn’t they know it?”

The gap in what the county has authorized and the new cost prompted O’Cain to revisit projections he made based on quotes from three big contractors, including Brasfield and Gorrie, the company he worked for. After adding a 15 percent inflation factor to projections the contractors made in 2016, O’Cain says a combination Stillwell renovation and new construction could be accomplished for $52.67 million. That price, he said, includes replacing the HHS track, a stadium seating renovation, furniture, fixtures and equipment, materials testing, final outside inspection and a $3.45 million contingency fund.
The exercise of fiduciary responsibility should require commissioners look at his plan again.
“If they’re being shown opportunities to save tens of millions of dollars and they’re turning their back on it I think they’re setting themselves up for potentially a very big problem,” said O’Cain, an HHS graduate.

HHS a campaign issue?


Pat Sheley, a Democrat from Flat Rock who is challenging County Commission Chair Michael Edney in the November election, appealed to the Board of Commissioners to add public comment time before the joint meeting.
“After consultation with Chair Amy Holt, she and I agreed that there will not be sufficient time during the May 24 joint meeting between the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education to receive public comment,” Edney said in an email reply. “The BOE and the BOC value citizen input in all matters, including this very important one. I strongly encourage you and other interested citizens to drop off, mail or e-mail the Board members with your thoughts and ideas!!”
Sheley said it’s worth looking at renovating the Stillwell building.
“The big thing I guess I have is we seem to not be able to put roofs on schools,” she said. “The superintendent said it’s raining in some of our schools. How do we build a $60 million high school? I just don’t understand the fiscal responsibility here. This has progressed and the money just keeps growing. The taxpayers are spending for this. I’m a retired taxpayer and I know what that’s like.”
Sheley has found herself for the third time in the middle of a political decision that has drawn strong protests — the Balfour Parkway and Saluda firing range, both now dead, and HHS. She joined the crowds in opposing the parkway and law enforcement training center.
“It seemed like the commission was determined to go buy this (Boyd) parking lot on Main Street and make it a school,” she said. “Where are we going with this project, really should it move forward? I have a lot of questions.”
One question: Why did the county ask the School Board to request the additional money to cover the gym and auditorium?
“Why would they go back to the School Board? They want to blame it all on the School Board,” she said. “Is that what it is? We don’t need to place blame. We need to get some answers on what we’re going to do.”
Edney invited his general election opponent to state her position on the HHS plan.
“Please share with me your thoughts on the needs for HHS,” he said in an email. “Do you support an auditorium of 900+ seats? Do you support building a secondary gymnasium for wrestling and other activities? How many square feet is appropriate for 1000 student HHS?”

In meetings with School Board members last week, Clark Nexsen architect Chad Roberson and John Mitchell, the county’s business development director, told board members that the $52.6 million pricetag included no auxiliary gym and an auditorium of 400 seats instead of 900. Hoping to keep construction bids on schedule, county officials asked School Board members to make a new request for $11 million more if members wanted what the county described as add-ons.
The cost overrun, and the School Board’s reaction to it, was only the latest in the long and contentious path to build a new Hendersonville High School, an option favored by the Board of Commissioners and broadly opposed by HHS students, faculty and alumni. The School Board voted against and then in favor of the new-school option before the City Council, in a split vote after an emotional public hearing, approved a rezoning for the project.
County Manager Steve Wyatt and Commissioner Bill Lapsley said the larger auditorium and second gym were always add-ons above the agreed-upon capital cost of $52.6 million. County Commissioner Grady Hawkins seemed to recall the cost projections as School Board members did.
“In the joint meeting we had back in November of ‘16, we went into some fairly lengthy discussion on Hendersonville High School,” Hawkins said last week. “At that time it was pointed out that there was an auxiliary gym and a 900-seat auditorium and the price was still 52.2 (million). What changed between that meeting? Somewhere the decision was made to go back and pare those down but yet it’s indicated in the November meeting that those other items could be successfully accomplished within that budget.”
The process of “refining the program and refining the budget for each one of those options” resulted in the higher number, architect Chad Roberson responded. “We also discussed in the May (2016) meeting that there was going to be at least a $10 million (price increase) to add those components to the project.”
The architects say the auxiliary gym would cost $3 million and the larger auditorium $8 million.
Commissioner Charlie Messer said he gets “questions I can’t answer” about the HHS project and its ever-escalating cost.
“Why can’t we keep the old Hendersonville High School gym, the one that was built in the ‘70s? I would like to see the possibility of at least having some dialogue with the School Board to see if that would even be possible to do that because that’s saving a lot of money,” he said. “I don’t know if the county commissioners are going to get crucified for not using the buildings that we have.”
Commissioner Bill Lapsley, a civil engineer, said that would be impossible.
“From my perspective, if the School Board decided to save that building, you’re talking about a total redesign of the project,” he said. “That gym would be right at the front door of a brand-new $60 million school. … I support totally building a second gym. My biggest concern at the moment (is) we’re going to delay the construction project even more. I think we should at least direct the architect to proceed with a second gym and then if we want to debate the auditorium fine.”