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The Henderson County School Board is deadlocked on whether to hire ClarkNexsen, the county's architect of record, to draw new plans for Hendersonville High School construction, throwing up another roadblock to a resolution of the long and contentious process to decide the school's future.

The School Board, which with the resignation of Colby Coren now has six members instead of seven, voted 3-3 on a motion to accept a special committee's recommendation on an architect for new HHS plans. Voting yes were Rick Wood, Mary Louise Corn and Michael Absher. Voting no were Blair Craven, Chair Amy Lynn Holt and Lisa Edwards. A tie vote means that the motion fails.

A motion by Craven to select the second-place finisher, PFA/LS3P, failed for lack of a second. The board then decided, in a unanimous vote, that the full board would hear the presentations from ClarkNexsen and PFA/LS3P again. The board will call a special meeting to hear the proposals.

On Friday the ad hoc committee, which was made up of four School Board members and three administrators, recommended ClarkNexsen over three other architectural firms after each made hour-long presentations. Serving on the panel were Holt, Craven, Wood and Absher, Superintendent Bo Caldwell, Associate Superintendent John Bryant and Kent Parent, director of capital projects.

During a special called meeting at noon today, School Board member Blair Craven strongly endorsed the proposal of PFA/LS3P, which boasted of its record in preservation of historic schools and and renovating urban campuses and said it would incorporate the historic Stillwell building into its project.

Craven said PFA/LS3P, a joint venture of Asheville-based PFA and Charlotte-based LS3P, delivered by far the superior presentation.

“I’ve been to hundreds, maybe a thousand presentations from financial advisers, CPAs, lawyers and that was one of the most singularly impressive presentations I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Craven, a financial adviser with Merrill Lynch.  

Holt also ranked PFA/LS3P first.

“To say that they were 10 times above any other presentation would be slighting them,” she said. “They had a preliminary budget, they had a model. More important to me, was the team of people that they had put together. Everything they had was just amazing to me.”

Rick Wood and Mary Louise Corn urged the other board members to vote unanimously for the committee recommendation.

“We are only approving to negotiate with ClarkNexsen,” Wood said.

“I was dumbstruck to be honest that five people actually picked ClarkNexsen,” Craven said. Clearly, he said, the firm has more background in the project than anyone else. “But did they give us the best presentation? Absolutely not. That’s what I’m going on.”

Given the four years the School Board had already invested in a "very very very imporant decsion," Lisa Edwards said, a delay was the best option. "I think we should slow down just a tiny bit," she said.

Holt said she believed the School Board could work with ClarkNexsen.

“Do I think they will listen to us? Absolutely,” she said. “I think the community needs to remember that for the past two years they were hired by the Board of Commissioners. They were doing exactly what the commissioners told them to do. ClarkNexsen did not choose a brand new school. The Board of Commissioners did.”

Wood defended ClarkNexsen.

"It said a lot that ClarkNexsen was willing to apply and go through this," he said. "They've taken a lot of hits, county commission's taken a lot of hits, we've taken a lot of hits. But the fact is they wanted to try to make it right.  They convinced me they would work with us to come up with a plan that we wanted. They would be representing the Henderson County School Board."

“I don’t understand why we went through the ad hoc committee procedure if we’re not going to accept the recommendation of the committee,” Wood said. “Five out of seven voted for ClarkNexsen. I think it’s kind of a slap in the face to those five people that picked ClarkNexsen to not go along with this. I think we need a unanimous vote. I think we need to show the county commissioners that we’re working together on this.”

During public comment before the board convened, three speakers questioned the ad hoc committee's recommendation.

"There is not a full board at present and two members were not in attendance to view the presentation by the firms," Ken Fitch said. "To rush to a vote on this important matter under these conditions is not optimum. ... At stake here is the reputation and credibility of the School Board and its public support."

ClarkNexsen, he said, had shown nothing that the HHS community would support.

"Unfortunately, this firm does not enjoy public trust," he said. "With all the experience, this firm brought nothing to the table in its presentation except another dog and pony show and self congratulations."