HENDERSONVILLE — Hendersonville High School Principal Bobby Wilkins couldn’t stop smiling on the morning of Aug. 3, the day city and county leaders held a ribbon cutting for the school’s eight-year renovation project.
After several of the project’s leaders spoke, Wilkins, a 1975 HHS graduate, was the last speaker of the ceremony and was introduced by Henderson County Public Schools new Superintendent, Mark Garrett.
“His family has a legacy here, and he has a legacy here at Hendersonville High School. When I think ‘Bearcat,’ even before I arrived here in Henderson County, I think Bobby Wilkins,” Garrett said.
With that, Wilkins walked over to the podium and held up his arms in excitement.
“Look at this place. Is this not beautiful? Isn’t it amazing?” he said. “I want to introduce all the alumni who are here today. That’s what this place is all about.”
Wilkins said his grandmother was the first to graduate from the school in his family, and that was back in 1908.
“My parents, my brothers, sisters, my wife, my children… we’ve all graduated from here. It’s a great place and it’s going to continue to be,” Wilkins said.
The project began eight years ago with several boards meeting to discuss how the renovations should take place. There were a lot of debates during those talks, but eventually, the project was approved and actual construction began four years ago. It ended up getting completed 11 months ahead of schedule by Vannoy Construction.
“This is a special day,” Henderson County Commissioner Mike Edney said. “I graduated here in ’78. There have been some ups and downs and many bumps in the road along the way on this project, but, again, that’s what we do. I did some research on the when the building was built the first time around back in the 1920s. After talks fell through, the school board and city council went back to the drawing board and came up with a new plan, which is just like we did.”
Henderson County Manager John Mitchell said he knew the project began eight years ago for a special reason.
“I know it was eight years, because my boss at the time, Steve Wyatt, told me to go down to the Boyd Building, take a look at it and try to find an architect and take a walk through it. So I came down with the architect and with the superintendent and we walked through the building. We got to the old cafeteria, and there’s actually a photo of this… I got a phone call that my first daughter was being born. They were taking photographs, and you can see me on the phone. That’s how I know how long I’ve been working on this.
“So I was talking with my oldest daughter, Ava, last night and told her I have to come speak at this event. I said, ‘Ava, I’ve struggled for years with what a Bearcat is. Can you explain to me what it is?’ She said, ‘Daddy let me explain what it is. It’s a bear and it’s a cat.'”
Not long after Mitchell’s speech, Wilkins clarified things.
“Bearcats… strong as a bear, quick as a cat,” Wilkins said as the crowd cheered. “I’ve known that since I was 4.”
Wilkins said Vannoy Construction now also knows the meaning and tradition behind the word “Bearcats” and said the company did a lot of extra little things that die-hard Bearcat fans would notice. One of those little details was in plain sight for all to see at the ribbon cutting, which was held in the new outdoor commons area located just behind Dietz Field. As one of the alumni looked over at the press box, he said, “Hey, Bobby, did you get them to put the letters HHS in the rocks of the wall?”
Wilkins grinned and winked. He said little details like that made the project even more special.
“They did so many little things that people just don’t understand. It was those little things that needed to be done for Hendersonville High School. The rocks on the press box wall are from the old gym, and those rocks were also used for the sign at the entrance on Asheville Highway. It’s so many little things that meant so much to the school. We have a lot of tradition and we didn’t want to throw it all out the window just because we’re building a new building. They did such a good job of listening to our wants and our wishes,” Wilkins said.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the school resorting to remote learning, the $62 million project was able to get finished quicker than anticipated since students were off campus. The new Hendersonville High campus now encompasses 82,000 square feet of new and renovated space, including the 115,000-square-foot new Campbell Boyd Building that houses 50 classrooms.
The project preserved and renovated the historic Stillwell Building and the school’s auditorium, which is home to the Tom Orr Stage that was dedicated last month. One of the project’s highlights is the complete overhaul of historic Dietz Field. It was transformed to an artificial turf surface and a rubberized track. It also added a new press box that’s in the same place as the old one.
Hendersonville High Renovation Timeline
February 2018: Demolition of former Boyd Auto building, for new parking lot
June 11, 2019: Construction of new building begins
January 2020: Demolition begins of old gym, for construction of new auxiliary gym and renovation of Jim Pardue Gym
November 2020: New building construction completed
May 2021: New auxiliary and renovated Jim Pardue gyms completed for Class of 2021 graduation
December 2021: Dedication of new Campbell Boyd Building
February 2022: Renovation of Stillwell auditorium complete
May 2022: Installation of artificial turf begins on Dietz Field
June 2022: Dedication of Thomas E. “Tom” Orr Stage in Stillwell auditorium
Aug 3, 2022: Ribbon cutting of completed campus