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As HHS construction looms, school leaders outline building time frame

Associate Schools Superintendent John Bryant describes the construction timetable at Hendersonville High School during a presentation in the Stillwell auditorium, which Bryant described as ‘integral to the heartbeat’ of the Bearcat culture. Associate Schools Superintendent John Bryant describes the construction timetable at Hendersonville High School during a presentation in the Stillwell auditorium, which Bryant described as ‘integral to the heartbeat’ of the Bearcat culture.

There will be plenty of disruption and probably some unexpected twists and turns along the way but school and county officials are on the same page with the messaging: Conflict is in the past, all parties are working together amicably and the $60 million construction project when it’s finished will make Hendersonville High School a model facility for the next 100 years.


With the visible and very audible demolition getting under way less than 10 weeks from now, HHS principal Bobby Wilkins and associate schools superintendent John Bryant briefed the public on the project at the HHS auditorium earlier this month. Last week, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners heard from the lead architect for the project, who told the board that the first bid invitations go out this week so contractors can sprint out of the starting.
Wilkins praised county commissioners, the School Board, central office administrators and the architectural team for their support of the project.
“I bet we’ve met 100 times with the architects and they’ve listened to everything we said,” he said.
Bryant narrated slides that forecast the changes students, parents and the faculty will see over the next four years. Landlocked in the middle of a city, the Hendersonville High School new construction and major renovation hybrid presented challenges that are “unique in North Carolina,” Bryant said. While the campus seems relatively flat, it features a 30- to 40-foot grade change north to south. Among other things, the slope prevented engineers from creating a second parking lot entrance off Oakland Street. (The parking lot access is part of a major redesign of the whole Five Points intersection.)

‘Integral to the heartbeat of the school’

Four years of often rancorous debate came to an end in January when the Board of Commissioners agreed to fund a $60 million plan that saves the historic classroom building and auditorium, adds a new gym and new classroom building with a band room, cafeteria and library.
“It was paramount to the community and to the School Board that this particular facility be part of the new facility,” Bryant said of the auditorium, with its creaky red seats and red drapes that open to let the sun shine in before seniors file out in Move Up. The plan for the auditorium flops the lobby from the Bearcat Boulevard side to what is now the administrative office area, “creating an entryway that’s far more grand,” Bryant said. Although everything from the seats to the technology to stage lighting will change, Bryant promised that the spirit of Big Red will remain. “If you were a student or had a child who was a student,” he said, “you know this particular space is integral to the heartbeat of the school.”
Similarly, the tradition of HHS kids congregating for lunch outside will be preserved but in a far safer environment.
“We love that everybody hangs out here (in the yard) but we’d rather give you that same type of space within the interior of the school,” Bryant said. As they drew plans for the auditorium lobby and courtyard, the architects asked administrators to “tell us all the ways you might use this space” and checked and rechecked details “sometimes a dozen times a day.”
One example of the responsiveness and flexibility of the architects and general contractor, Vannoy Construction, was an agreement to fast-track the conversion of the vocational-ed building into a temporary cafeteria. A construction crew did the work in a few weeks over the summer, instead of over the Christmas break, because HHS administrators thought a switch mid-year would be too disruptive. In fact, the vocational-ed building will remain standing after the 1930s stone gym, band room and cafeteria have been bulldozed to rubble and hauled away because it serves, over and over, as swing space. In the end, it too will be razed.
From a sports and P.E. perspective, the most painful part of the process starts next July and ends 11 months later. After the old gym is demolished, the 1974 Jim Pardue Gymnasium will be renovated and a new practice gym will go up. Administrators are mulling options for games and practice that include using Hendersonville Middle School, other county schools or church gyms.
“We understand that’s the challenge and we will come up with solutions,” Bryant said. Under the construction schedule, the new gym complex would be ready in June 2021. “We expect to have it for graduation because that’s what we were promised,” Bryant added. The renovation brings an amenity that anyone who has ever sweated through an HHS graduation can appreciate: air conditioning.
Bryant, who like Wilkins wore a Bearcat red tie at the presentation, warned the 85 parents, alumni and others who attended that there will be curveballs ahead.
“This is going to be a continuing conversation for us,” he said. Where basketball, volleyball and wrestling teams practice and play, where students and teachers park when construction temporarily removes parking spaces and other questions remain.
“Construction has taught me that even when we think we’ve got it figured out, something will happen to make you change your mind,” Bryant said.

Commissioners pleased

Usually a tough audience for the architects guiding the HHS work, the county commissioners last week listened to a construction update and responded with praise.
HHSconMichaelEdneyCounty Commissioner Michael Edney donned a 3D headset for a virtual tour of what the new HHS will look like.Commissioner Michael Edney donned a 3D headset that enabled him to take a virtual tour of the new and renovated facilities. “Great presentation,” he said afterwards. “It’s very impressive.”
Commissioner Bill Lapsley, a civil engineer who has guided hundreds of projects across Henderson County and beyond, also complimented the project managers.
“I’ve looked at a lot of architects’ plans and engineers’ plans over my 45 years and I’ve been through the documents and y’all have done a good job,” he said. “I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen.”
Construction documents were 95% complete in early October, lead architect Maggie Carnevale told the commissioners. Work that can start right away was scheduled to go out for bids this week “in anticipation of construction starting in early 2020,” she said.
Fencing will segregate the construction zone from the student zone by New Year’s Day. Phase 1 starts on Jan. 2, with the demolition of the band room and cafeteria. The gyms close on July 1, 2020. In another concession for the sake of Bearcat tradition, the auditorium renovation will speed ahead on a tight timeframe — from Sept. 1, 2021, to March 2022. That makes the space that represents “the heartbeat of the school” available for Bearcat Bridge, for incoming freshman; orientation, opening-day assembly and pep rallies, reopening in time for senior play rehearsal in March 2022. At least, that’s the schedule.