Be There When Lightning Strikes

News

Set your text size: A A A

Sale of Boyd property would limit options for HHS

It seemed like a decisive moment last week when the Henderson County Board of Commissioners voted to pull the plug on the Hendersonville High School construction project after spending three years and almost $5 million on the plan. But in the days since, it became increasingly clear that the board’s decision raised questions more than it answered.

Among them:

  • If the commissioners’ official position now is to spend no more money on the high school, what will they say when the School Board comes back next spring with its capital projects list, topped by HHS?
  • If commissioners follow through on the idea of selling the old Boyd dealership property next door to the campus, can they market the land with no commitment from the Hendersonville City Council to rezone it for commercial use?
  • Does the decision to kill the HHS project and sell the Boyd property mean that the days of a county high school in the city limits are numbered, as some HHS alumni fear?

The answers can’t be known today but those questions are being asked as School Board members, city council members and commissioners themselves process the biggest public breakdown of diplomacy in recent memory.

City Councilman Jeff Miller, a 1972 HHS graduate who had been in behind-the-scenes negotiations to reach a compromise, said he had a troubling vision when he read accounts of last Wednesday’s County Commission meeting.

“What happens in Raleigh and Washington came back and landed here,” he said. “It sounded like they just hit the flush handle and let it all flow.”

The day before, during a meeting of the Local Government Committee for Cooperative Action, Laurel Park Mayor Carey O’Cain and Hendersonville Mayor pro tem Ron Stephens urged commissioners to cede the HHS construction decision to the School Board, angering the commissioners.

“It started the day before at the LGCCA,” Miller said. “Anybody that was on the fence got knocked right off of it by those comments that went down there. It certainly instilled a lot of bad blood leading into a meeting that was going to be contentious at best. I was disappointed that the comments came out there.”

Commissioner Bill Lapsley was direct in his criticism of the LGCCA remarks.

“I have worked personally very hard in the past two months and especially in the last 30 days to try and reach a compromise that everyone could live with. We were that close a week ago,” Lapsley said, holding his thumb and index finger a half-inch apart. “Then things like this come out in the paper the day before we were going to meet and this board gets lambasted and human nature being what it is, this is not a good thing. This gets people’s hairs to stand up at the back of their neck. We’ve been caught up in a local political situation that in the end the students and education program is going to suffer and I feel bad about it. But doggone it, we’ve got to move on. … I don’t see that anything different is going to happen two to three months from now and that’s sad. I’m so disappointed but I’m tired of dealing with it. We need to close the door and if it needs to be reopened again in two to three years when all of us get thrown out of office” it can happen under a new board.

“If that pushed them over the edge that is really childish,” Stephens said. “They should not take something this important and for future of children in that school just reacting to something we said regardless of how strongly they disagreed with it. I think what we said was right. I think they’re just using that as an excuse.”

Lapsley said he doesn’t see much movement by commissioners from their decision last week but did concede they “left the door cracked” for Chair Michael Edney and School Board Chair Amy Lynn Holt to continue talking.

“So the question is, Will the School Board reconsider their decision that they put in the letter” declaring a preference for an option commissioners oppose. “Meanwhile the process is going to inch forward.”

Boyd property sale

In interviews, elected officials on all sides said they hoped the HHS issue can be resolved. But the one decision last week that could be irreversible is the sale of the Boyd property. The four-part motion to stop the construction plan also included direction to the staff to retain a commercial real estate broker and explore the sale. The Boyd family sold the property the county in February 2011for $2.275 million. The property appraised for $3.35 million, the Boyds made a gift to the county of $600,000, which would have tax advantages.

“I think we’re just as shocked as everyone else when we heard the news,” Les Boyd said. “That was not the reason we sold the property. We sold it to the county with the hopes they would build a school there. It looks like that’s not going to be the case now. We assumed all along that was the intent. My dad did basically a big donation. Hopefully, they’ll figure it out.”

Cam Boyd said the sale clearly was intended to result in an expanded HHS campus in some form.

“I wanted to see it remain and do well and that one of the reason we made the deal with the County Commission,” he said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t put anything in writing that it had to be school property. … If they did (sell it) I’d want my $600,000 back.”

Although no deed restrictions tie the property to school, the county commissioners and School Board did sign a memorandum of understanding setting the land aside for HHS expansion.

Boyd, an HHS graduate and member of the Alumni Association, said he had spoken to commissioners privately about the project.

“It’s kind of a no-win situation for me. No matter what I say I’m going to p--- off half of my customers,” he said. “I’ve never been in favor of building the whole new thing on our property and I told the county commissioners that several times. One of the things that’s never come out is that when they had any kind of function, I gave them 150 parking spaces. … I’m very disappointed that the county commissioners are not listening to their constituents.”

Use of the Boyd property is now governed by the special use permit the City Council approved at the county’s request in May of 2017. If the property sold, the new owners would have to apply for zoning to the commercial use they chose.

“I don’t feel like the commissioners are going to run out and stick a for sale on it and do a fire sale,” Miller said. “Whoever buys it is going to have to start the process over. You’re going to have to come back to the Planning Board and the City Council, plus if they are not going to build a school there we’ll request that the county deed that property back to the city of Hendersonville and re-establish that road. If there’s not a need for a school to be built there, I don’t think the county would fight on us.”

Stephens is not receptive to a rezoning.

“Under no circumstances would I vote to change the zoning, not to stab back at them but because if you have a drug store, grocery store or anything else there the high school in that location is dead,” he said. “There’s nowhere for it to grow.”

Commissioners last week justified the Boyd property sale as a way to recoup some of the money the county has expended on the HHS plan.

“We have spent over $4 million in planning, in architect’s fees and demolition, on and on, to date,” Lapsley said. “We bought the property on the assumption it’s going to be used for the school. If we’re not going to do the project I think we need to sell the property.”

This week, he said the sale was not a sure thing but worth exploring.

“We don’t know what the market is for the Boyd property but we’re going to find out,” he said.

'We are not closing down that school'

 

Although there’s no agreement in sight now, the elected leaders for the most part were holding out some hope that discussions will continue.

Holt said she had spoken to Edney a couple of times but heard “absolutely zero” from other commissioners or even School Board members.

“I’ve heard from parents of incoming Hendersonville High School students that are mad that the project’s been stopped,” she said.

Would the Boyd property sale lead to the end of HHS.

“No, absolutely not,” she said. “We are not moving that school, we are not closing down that school, there’s been no talk of that. If we didn’t have the Boyd property and we needed to do renovation we could do that. Commissioners don’t have the authority to move that school anywhere else.”

When the School Board sends a prioritized list of capital needs to the Board of Commissioners, HHS is likely right back on the commissioners’ plate.

“I’m sure that’ll be at the top of the list,” she said. “Dr. (John) Bryant and (superintendent) Bo Caldwell have been interviewing architectural firms to do a comprehensive study of every facility that we have. There was money for a safety analysis, too. That’s going to be a two-fold study. I think safety is going to be at the top of our list but Hendersonville High School isn’t going to go anywhere and the longer we go the more that (cost) escalation is going to go up.”

Cam Boyd said he is hopeful the two sides can resolve their differences.

“I’m hoping that the School Board and the commissioners will think about it a little bit get back on the same track and get something done,” he said. “If try to sell that property there’s nowhere else for it to grow. When we sold the property we knew that either we had to have that property to survive or they had to have it to survive. That’s why I think it’s so terribly important that they keep that property.”

Miller said he called Lapsley and County Manager Steve Wyatt after the vote.

“My statement to them was, ‘Come on guys, we gotta do better,’” he said. “I would have liked to have Stillwell incorporated into the campus. Not because I’m emotionally attached to it but because if they don’t figure it out and get it involved in the whole campus they’re just going to tear it down some day. … I do truly believe that the county commissioners want the best for kids. I don’t think there’s anybody there trying to jump on the kids. You start talk about $50-60 million, that’s a lot of money. … I think there’s chance for the Hendersonville High School project to come to fruition but everybody has to calm down. Nobody’s going to get everything they want.”

“The door is cracked, it’s not slammed shut,” Lapsley said. “It won’t be slammed shut until and if the county commissioners sign a contract to sell the property.”