Bearcat Bridge: Campus Blending Old With New - TribPapers

Bearcat Bridge: Campus Blending Old With New

Here is what the new HHS main/west side will look like.


Hendersonville High School construction and renovation is progressing rapidly in this winter, with a design blending the historic with the new.

Hendersonville High School is shaping up as a magnificent blend of historic and new structures, as campus renovations progress sharply during this winter and are on track to be mostly complete a year from now.

Brick is on much of the exterior of the long, two-story new classroom building and is on the new auxiliary gymnasium. HHS principal Bobby Wilkins said that the new gym’s floor goes in very soon. Roofs are up.

Enthusiasm is soaring. “It’s exciting to everyone,” Wilkins said. “The anticipation is neat. You see the additions to the campus, going up day-to-day. When we can tour it, everyone will go ‘Wow, super!’ … I can’t wait!”

Schools Supt. Dr. John Bryant said Vannoy Construction’s work remains on target for the new classroom structure to open in January of 2022, and the new auxiliary gym to debut this June.

“We’re thrilled to death” with the project’s steady progress, and seeing structures emerge, he said. “We want to provide the best environment — most conducive to learning.”

The campus expands to 175,000 square feet, split between historic and new. Vannoy notes the project has new construction and demolition across 90,000 square feet and renovation of 85,000 square feet. 

Dr. Bryant calls it a “tremendous design.” With it “we’ll create a beautiful bridge between the new and the historic” such as with matching brick styling, Dr. Bryant further told the Tribune.

Indeed, the new look bridges the past and future with a second-level enclosed “sky bridge.” It connects the middle of three floors of the historic 1926 Stillwell Building that still houses HHS classes to the upper level of the new classrooms/multi-use building being built north of it, and which extends along Oakland Street.

The HHS entrance will be on that west side, instead of into Stillwell and off of Bearcat Boulevard on the south end.

The new main building will hold classes. It will also consolidate operations — including some long-held in undersized, freestanding additions that were or will be razed. It will house the media center, dining and kitchen areas, music rooms, science labs, CTE classrooms, and administrative offices, according to LS3P Associates.

Famed architect Erle Stillwell (1885-1978) designed the campus’ initial structures — the gallant auditorium with classical columns and classroom building named after him.

The vocational “V Building” joins Stillwell on its east side. It went up in the early Seventies, along with the band room and cafeteria — which were the first structures torn down last year. The school was further remodeled and expanded in 1991.

Once the new classroom building is ready a year from now, most classes will be held there so Stillwell can get renovated. “Students will transition to the new facility, with flex space” of holding some classes in “V,” Supt. Bryant noted. A sheltered courtyard will be where V is and lead toward the athletic field.

The combination of PFA (formerly Padgett & Freeman Architects)-LS3P Associates dethroned Clark Nexsen (CN), the initial project designer when Henderson County’s $60 million project was rebid. The main difference in the competing plans was PFA-LS3P suggested substantially renovating Stillwell to still use it for classes, instead of a new roof and patchwork for non-HHS usage.

The music room and cafeteria are rubble, one year ago. Behind the pile is Jim Pardue Gymnasium and the old gym/fieldhouse, which went down last spring. The new main HHS building is going up across space at front left. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
The music room and cafeteria are rubble, one year ago. Behind the pile is Jim Pardue Gymnasium and the old gym/fieldhouse, which went down last spring. The new main HHS building is going up across space at front left.

Renovations Save County Money

Henderson County saved money in the project such as by retaining the 1974 Jim Pardue Gymnasium and renovating it rather than building a pricy new gym, delaying Dietz Field upgrades into a separate project not yet bid, and scrapping a fan skybox.

Instead of erecting a new auditorium, more savings are from upgrading the 800-seat auditorium. It will get a new lobby and events space, to expand its community usage.

Pardue Gym will be accessed from a hallway entered from the classroom structure’s second level — with a mere 16-inch height variance countered by a gradual floor slope, Wilkins noted. The public will enter the hall at the end of a parking lot. Gym concessions will be moved away from the current entrance, and be in a hallway with restrooms nearby.

The new auxiliary gym like its demolished predecessor will house wrestling matches and various team practices. It is snazzy enough to back up Pardue for basketball games, or be a simultaneous secondary site for hoops tournaments.

That new gym has parking and bus spots beyond it — on the campus’ extended north end on former Boyd Auto property. That land and Dietz Field front North Church Street.

Dietz Field has a temporary weight room and football/soccer dressing rooms where the concession stand was on the visitor’s side, near Church Street. On hold are a widened track, a new elevated press box, and new turf.

Active Campus During Renovations

Construction is fenced off from the rest of the campus. Bryant commends educators’ “patience to work in a construction zone. People have to navigate between spaces. But we’re putting ‘phasing‘ plans in place. People have been very understanding.”

Vannoy is “first-class in attention to detail” and quality, Bryant said. He lauded the “team effort,” with regular oversight from the county and school officials.

Dr. Bryant said he has been “extraordinarily involved in this project.” He previously was associate superintendent, overseeing school capital projects and construction. 

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