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Commissioners open to new plans for HHS

A proposed design by PFA-LS3P would renovate the historic Stillwell building and add new classrooms, a second gym and other buildings to the tight urban campus at HHS. A proposed design by PFA-LS3P would renovate the historic Stillwell building and add new classrooms, a second gym and other buildings to the tight urban campus at HHS.

Henderson County School Board members are united when it comes to the new plans for Hendersonville High School and HHS alumni and faculty have renewed confidence that the most intractable issue in local politics is on track at last. Even county commissioners say they’re open to the new plans, which they’re expecting to see in January.

The School Board voted unanimously on Sept. 27 to hire PFA-LS3P, a collaboration of Asheville-based PFA and LS3P, a school construction specialist from Charlotte, to design a new HHS construction plan. The board chose the partnership after its architects presented a plan — in more detail than their competitors — that focused on preserving historic core building and adding more classrooms, a practice gym and other new buildings. The PFA-LS3P concept was similar to plans advocated by Bill Orr, the immediate past president of the HHS Alumni Association, and fellow HHS graduate Carey O’Cain, a retired construction project manager.
“It’s a little bit of hope that we’ll be able to utilize that building and not just have it sit there as an eyesore,” Orr said. “I was at the School Board and saw the presentation. I think it’s a functional plan. There will be adjustments, of course, but everybody I’ve talked to has been excited about it.”
Among incumbent School Board members and the six candidates for the job on the Nov. 6 ballot, none has expressed opposition to the renovation-construction hybrid, and most have endorsed the PFA-LS3P plans with enthusiasm.
“I heard the PFA/LS3P presentation and I am excited,” said candidate Dot Case, a retired North Henderson High School teacher. “I like the blended plan because the school will be modern but will keep some of their traditions and construction will be within designated financial limits.”
Another candidate, Stacey Caskey, agreed.
“Given the historic nature of the Stillwell Building, its importance to the HHS community and the renovations that have already taken place to that structure, the most practical approach is to completely renovate that building and to construct a new school using Stillwell as the centerpiece,” she said in the School Board Q&A featured in the Lightning’s Voter Guide.

The School Board is facing a January deadline to send more detailed plans to the Board of Commissioners, which must approve the funding.
Pat Sheley, a Democrat challenging four-term incumbent Michael Edney, also endorsed the new firm’s plans.
“I totally believe that they’re capable of the job and I’m waiting for their budget. Their design is very good and they’re going to actually renovate the Stillwell building. … I will tell you that if this county does not vote for me they are not going to get it through the commissioners. I am ready to give leadership to this commission.”
Edney says he’s open the plans from the School Board.
“I have kept up with the School Board’s progress regarding Hendersonville High School and look forward to seeing the details on the project,” he said in a statement. “I am hopeful that the new firm can accomplish everyone’s goal of designing a high quality 21st century learning environment at an affordable cost.”
And in response to a candidate questionnaire, Edney defended the School Board’s authority to choose a design.
“It is the absolute province of the elected Board of Public Education to create and develop their vision for the education of our young people,” he said. “Once they have shared that vision with professional architects and have developed a design which will allow them to accomplish that vision, the plan can then be presented to the community and commissioners.” While the commissioners must act as the taxpayer’s guardians, “we should give wide latitude to the wishes of School Board” as long as the board presents a “reasonable and realistic” design.

Commissioner Bill Lapsley, an influential vote on the board because of his 40 year of experience in civil engineering, was non-committal on what’s been floated so far but open to what is coming in January.
“They’re moving along. I really don’t have any comment yet” on the plans, he said. “I’m glad to see they’re doing what they said they wanted to do. I’m open to look at what they propose.”
When the Board of Commissioners authorized the School Board to choose a new architect in August, Lapsley set seven conditions for a proposal, including security, durability, construction time and not having classroom trailers.
“If they come up with a plan that satisfies or comes close to satisfying those issues that I had, yeah, I’m open,” he said. “If it’s a better a plan, I’m open to it. ... I want to look at and see their numbers. I want to see how they come up with that number.”
Lapsley said he planned to hold the architects accountable on the price.
“We want them to put their name on this and say we believe we can build this project as shown for this amount of dollars,” he said. If the architects have understated the cost, “then we’d be right back in the same situation we’re in now.”
Lapsley has a higher maximum price than the School Board itself has been working on. The School Board asked respondents to the RFP to submit plans showing the project at under $52 million. Lapsley would be willing to go higher “because I was ready to vote on spending $60 million on the current plan by giving them the second gym,” he said. “If they come in with another plan that’s at that number or less I’d check that off the list.”
Commissioner Grady Hawkins said PFA/LS3P had promised a lot for a price that is $20 million less than the final cost of the all-new construction option.
“I’d say that sounds like a pretty tall order but if what they come out with satisfies the need and is considerably cheaper, certainly we’d have to take a hard look at it,” he said.
HHS alumni like Orr, Class of ’61, are more optimistic than they were two months ago.
“I think they can get the votes to fund the project because it’s saving so much money over what the other plan was going to cost,” he said. “Mr. Lapsley, I think he’s reasonable. I think when he sees the presentation on how it can be done, it will check all the blocks on his list. I think there’s hope and I think there may be a couple of new commissioners from the election coming up that will ultimately vote on it. Anything that could bring the community together and have all parties at least reasonably pleased with it is a step in the right direction.”