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'We know it's a sacrifice,' Craven says of HHS construction hassles

Drawing shows how students will be protected from construction during first phase of the demolition and new construction at HHS. Drawing shows how students will be protected from construction during first phase of the demolition and new construction at HHS.

In the Craven household, the dinner table conversation sometimes journeys into the idea of sacrifice. And in the past couple of years, the battle over Hendersonville High School has been a teachable moment.

Blair Craven and his wife, Andi, have told their children that sometimes it takes sacrifice to reach a goal. In this case, that includes lunches cooked off-site, a season of away games and a lot of construction racket.
“We know it’s a sacrifice,” Craven was saying in something like post-game comments from a player on the winning side. “We know we’re not going to have one full year of indoor sports — no volleyball, basketball, wrestling. We will get that back in a year so it’s only one year we’re going to lose. The cafeteria’s going to be a little bit of a heartburn. Busing in the food is not ideal but there are sacrifices if you want to renovate a space.”
Renovation versus new construction, the flashpoint in a contentious three-year-long process that has pitted the School Board and Board of Commissioners, finally came down to renovation, reversing the position commissioners had held firm on. At 11:48 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019 — a rare date that to record in the book of harmony — the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to spend $59.6 million on the renovation-new construction hybrid that’s scheduled to be finished by the 2023-24 school year. In the end, commissioners said, the total price will top $60 million counting a new press box, new artificial turf and new track at the football stadium.
But for Craven and Amy Lynn Holt, it might never have happened. Holt, the School Board chair, and Craven insisted on recruiting new architects who could draw plans showing how renovation could blend with new construction. Once the new plans were drawn, the School Board enthusiastically got on board. Commissioners voted to move ahead with construction last week. Let the sacrifice begin.
“My family’s ready to do that. The community’s ready to do that,” Craven said. “We’re just ready to move forward.”
Lucas Craven, a sixth grader, “will be there for all the commotion,” said his dad, an HHS alumnus. “He will not have use of the gym his freshman year. He will not have use of the Stillwell building his sophomore year. His junior year he will have the completed product. … I’ve shown him the plans. Funny thing is my kindergartener asks all the time, ‘Daddy, what’s going on with my new school?’ I tell her what’s going on. They’re all thrilled.”

Commissioners raise questions

 

Commissioners raised some questions and expressed some concerns over the details but the atmosphere was far more cordial than previous meetings where the two boards were divided.
Noting that he spent 40 years as a civil engineer, Commissioner Bill Lapsley asked a series of questions about the plans. As time went on, it became clear none of his concerns amounted to a show stopper.
Lapsley had problems, for instance, with the look and feel of the enclosed courtyard.
"When you look at this courtyard area ... my vision is we're looking at a three-story rear-end of the Stillwell building." He encouraged the architects "to make it a little more attractive because I think most people are going to be very disappointed when they stare up at this three-story backside of the building."
In the end, commissioners said, the total price will be around $60 million counting new artificial turf on Dietz Field, the high school stadium.
Lapsley delivered his grade on the issues he said last summer a new plan needed to address. Although former School Board member Colby Coren dubbed them the “seven deadly sins,” it turns out there were eight.
Here are Lapsley's eight bullet points:
• Time of construction: it's about the same amount of time as the original plan.
• Security:  "I think this is covered well in both the designs," he said.
• Student safety during construction: Part of the phasing "is very tight" and could put students near cranes and heavy construction activity. "They're going to be very very close" to the construction. Students "are going to get curious and lean up against the fence" and "hassle the contractors."
• Modular units: None are proposed. "I want to make sure everybody understands there's no gymnasiums or cafeteria for 18 months," he said. "I just want to make sure everyone understands what's going to happen if this alternative is selected." On the whole, though, he said the plan meets his demand of no modular units. "The parents and the teachers and the students, it's easy for us to say, they can live with it for a month or two but year or more than a year, it's going to be a significant backlash from the people involved."
• Lifespan of new vs. renovation. Still no question, all-new alternative would last longer than renovation, he said.
• Quality of materials: He is satisfied materials are equal to the original plan and not inferior to cut costs.
• Phasing: The proposed phasing is OK.
• Cost: After a review of the initial, it was clear that several items were not included. But once the two sides sat down and reviewed everything they and agreed on the $59.2 million cost. "We've got to live with the number," he said. "I honestly believe you can build a quality project for this money."
"So to me what it comes down to is a lack of an auditorium and gymnasium and cafeteria (during construction) and the inconvenience and the price the students and the community have to pay in order to have the Stillwell building and the newer gymnasium as part of the campus," he said. "It comes down to how important having those components is and is the community willing to suffer the inconvenience they're going to have."
Commissioner Rebecca McCall asked about growth projections. At 200 students per grade, HHS would have 800 students. "We're building this for 900," Superintendent Bo Caldwell said. "If we see the capacity growing basically we'll have to go to a lottery system and deny requests" from students outside the HHS zone.
"It's my belief and I understand that this is a School Board decision," she said. "At the end of the day you've got to come up with a plan that's going to meet the needs of our children and I just want to make sure that was first and foremost. I like this plan."
"I heard comments and I hear a lot more negative about Hendersonville Bearcats than any other school I've had to deal with in the last 19 years," Commissioner Charlie Messer said. But, he added: "Time is money. We need to get this thing started. ... I can live with the controversy of everything else coming down the road."
Commissioner Michael Edney, an HHS graduate, father of an HHS graduate and an eighth grader scheduled to enroll in August, asked a series of questions about the configuration of a renovated Stillwell building and about parking.
Architect Maggie Carnevale said the team spent a day with principal Bobby Wilkins identifying all the courses and how much classroom space they needed.
The number of parking spaces — 146 — is less than the 203 spaces the earlier plan provided. Carnevale said 146 was the number of spaces the city will require based on the zoning code, she said. Edney said that's not enough.
"Safety is the No. 1 concern and you've got them parking on the street," he said. "What am I missing on that? Part of what we talked about a long time ago was to get them off the street."
With 80 employees and 146 spaces, "that doesn't leave space for 300 kids driving to school," he said. When it endorsed the previous plan "we were all crucified about kids near the highway ... kids getting run over, all that crazy stuff and now it's all gone away and nobody cares."
Carnevale defended the parking lot, on the street parking and traffic plan, saying it would be safer than what exists now.
"There's not enough on-site parking," Edney said, adding that the School Board needed to "address parking as a safety issue."
"I think the parking is more than the other one," School Board member Jay Egolf, HHS class of 1989, responded. "I do like the fact that the new building is not on (Highway) 25 or close to 25. I think that's plenty of parking. When I was there I got a ticket one time and for next two or three months I kept parking there and putting the same old ticket" on the windshield.
Blair Craven said the School Board had received drawings Tuesday for possible uses of the Fassifern Court lot, which the county bought for HHS parking. The new architects said the runover lot is not needed. Potential uses included tennis courts, a practice field and 12 or more parking spaces, Craven said.
Commission Chair Grady Hawkins suggested that a committee made up of county commissioners and School Board members — the resurrected Joint Facilities Committee— could explore the parking question.
"Obviously, whatever you come up with, any way you can squeeze it, it's not going to be 400 parking spots," Hawkins said. The School Board, he added, could limit the number of students allowed to drive to school — 100 seniors, for instance — in order to solve the problem on the demand side instead of the supply.
"This is a judgment call," he said.
"It's been a long journey hasn't it?" Rick Wood said. "At times it's been very painful but I'm encouraged by the way we're working together to try to see this project through.”
Craven was thrilled with the outcome.
“Four years from now,” he said, “we’re going to be standing on that sight and everybody’s going to be thrilled that we made this decision.”