Yesterday, after three years of back and forth negotiations, the Henderson County commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of ending the Hendersonville High School project. They also opted to sell the adjacent Boyd property, which had previously been purchased specifically so that it could be a part of the new high school. The sale of this property by the county could even kill the entire project.
So far, almost $5 million in taxpayer dollars has been wasted on planning, architect’s fees, land acquisition, testing, and demolition.
Many people in the community, many whom have a vested interest in seeing a successful Hendersonville High project come to fruition, are understandably upset by this news. The future of a new Hendersonville High School is very much in jeopardy.
Or at least it is, if the current school board leadership continues to be responsible for the negotiations related to the project. The contract delivered by the architect very clearly stated the size of the new building. It should have been immediately obvious to anyone who read the contract, as I did, that an auxiliary gym and larger auditorium were not included. And yet now, over a year later, our school board felt “duped” by the architect and were shocked to find out that all of the options that they had seen in a presentation were not included in the cost of the new school. That’s a lot like buying a house and then saying that you were shocked that it didn’t come with an upgraded kitchen.
One can contend that you can only be duped if you lack the expertise, the common sense, and the ability to negotiate on such a large and complex project.
Making matters worse, the school board delivered an ultimatum to the commissioners in recent days, essentially instructing them to pay roughly $13 million more for the school or to start over with a new architect. That’s clearly not a very successful negotiation strategy and the results speak for themselves.
So, where do we go from here, now that the project is back to square one? The first thing you do is you elect new leadership, and select people who are competent and careful and take all the necessary steps to make sure the needs of the children in Henderson County are being met. You elect people to the school board who are conservative in their spending and don’t make multi-million dollar mistakes. You begin again, putting politics and egos aside, you pay attention to the details and you make sure that all of the stakeholders are informed at every single step of the way.
At some point in this process, our elected officials lost sight of why we renovate or build schools. We passionately try to preserve our county’s history, but we also look to the future, knowing it will be our children who are the pathfinders, the hope we all invest in.