City, county schools make progress on renovations, construction

BUILT TO LAST: The pace of renovations at Asheville High School, which began at the end of last school year, picked up dramatically over the summer. School officials plan to spend $25 million rehabilitating the historic 1929 main building, as well as other buildings on campus. Photo by Virginia Daffron

For students, summer is a time for relaxation.

For the planners, builders and officials with the Asheville City and Buncombe County school systems, the past few months have been a time for planning, preparing and construction.

Asheville High School

With paint peeling off the walls, leaky roofs and some broken rafters, historic Asheville High School needs a comprehensive upgrade, an undertaking officials with the city school system say the building has needed for a long time.

“It’s from a lot of deferred construction and a lot of deferred maintenance,” says Don Sims, the director of facilities and properties for Asheville City Schools.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners recently allocated about $25 million for renovations to the building, which will be completed in three phases over a period of about three years.

During phase one, crews will replace the roof and the water and sewer systems in the main building and repair the building’s exterior walls, roof framing, gutters and downspouts.

Crews will also be repairing window lintels on the main building and the ROTC building.

Work at the site started right before the end of the most recent school year, and school officials anticipate students will see tangible evidence of construction when school starts this week.

“They’ll see a tremendous amount of scaffold,” Sims says. “The progress that’s being made as we speak is the tile roof.”

Among other changes, students will likely notice new mortar between some of the stonework.

School leaders are making an effort to retain many of the historic characteristics of Asheville High School, which opened in early 1929 to help accommodate the needs of Asheville’s growing population. Officials are hewing close to the building’s history and have kept it in mind while choosing building materials.

“Even to the mixing of the tile colors,” says Tim Holcombe, the capital projects coordinator with Asheville City Schools.

Asheville High School has a copper gutter system that goes down through the building’s walls, a design that has caused problems over the years.

“They’re so old and degraded that they’re leaking tremendously,” Sims says. “So if you walk through Asheville High, you see paint coming off the wall and plaster that’s still wet, that’s why.”

Now, the building will have downspouts on the outside that extend to the ground. The new gutter system will be renovated using the same material — copper.

“The year this school was built, copper is what they would have used for guttering,” Sims says.

Montford North Star Academy

While renovations continue at Asheville High School, another building in the Asheville City School system will be getting a new name, a new roof and new students.

Montford North Star Academy, a middle school that will occupy the building that used to be William Randolph School, will experience a series of changes in the next couple of years.

“A total retrofit, basically,” Holcombe says.

In addition to the new roof, the building will also receive a new mechanical system, which Sims describes as antiquated.

“We literally had pipes there where you could take a screwdriver and put a hole in it,” Sims says.

Most of the issues with the building — which was dedicated on March 22, 1953 — are age-related.

“This building really has had nothing done to it since the time it was … built except for the exception that at some point they did go in and put in air-conditioning core units,” Sims says. “Other than that, Montford has had very little work.”

Construction will occur in at least two phases, with the first phase encompassing  the roof, mechanical system, door hardware and other components. Physical work at the school started a couple of weeks ago.

The city school system has received $5.6 million for the construction project, $3 million of which has been committed so far.

The school system hopes the project will take less than two years to complete.

With a growing middle school population, the project ensures the city system will have a place to send middle school students in the future.

During the 2017-18 school year, Montford North Star Academy will be open to sixth-graders, and the system hopes to expand to other grades in the future.

Other city school projects

The city school system also received $3.9 million from the county commission for repairs and upgrades at Ira B. Jones Elementary School.

The school will receive upgrades to its HVAC system and new roofs. Officials expect construction will last about two years and hope to start on the roof soon.

In addition, the city school system is preparing for the new Asheville Primary School to open for the 2017-18 school year.

The school will adopt a Montessori teaching style, an educational approach that encourages students to learn using their natural curiosity. Children are also typically organized into classrooms that consist of more than one grade level.

The school will be open to kids in pre-kindergarten through second grade during the 2017-18 school year and will expand to third grade in the future.

Community High School

No stranger to elaborate renovations of its own, the Buncombe County school system has broken ground and begun site work for renovations to Community High School in Swannanoa.

“It’s an old building that has wood floors, and the roof has worn out,” says Tim Fierle, the director of the facilities and planning department with Buncombe County Schools, “so it needed very, very significant renovations to update it and just to maintain it.”

The first phase of construction at Community High School will consist of a standalone classroom and administration addition.

Once that’s finished next year, students will move out of the existing facility and into the new addition. The next phase will consist of significant renovations to the existing facility.

The completion date for the whole project will be December 2019. Site work has begun, which has consisted of grading, establishing utilities and clearing room for the addition. The project will cost a little over $12 million.

T.C. Roberson High School

The six-lane pool on the T.C. Roberson High School campus is in the process of being expanded to 10-lane pool, which will serve all the schools in the Buncombe County system.

The brick pool, which used to be outdoors, has leaks, and Fierle says the building that was constructed over it is in rough shape. The equipment used to filter and treat the water also needs to be replaced.

The cost of the project is about $6 million, and once complete, the pool will be large enough to accommodate swim meets and for two teams to practice in the same space.

Officials expect the pool will be complete by the 2018-19 swim season.

Other county school projects

  • The county is gutting and renovating the food labs at Charles D. Owen and T.C. Roberson high schools. “We’re bringing [the equipment] up to modern standards so that they have the look, the feel and the functionality of a modern, in the case of T.C. Roberson, commercial kitchen, and in the case of Owen, more of a residential level,” Fierle says.
  • During the summer, the county installed synthetic turf for the football and soccer field in the stadium at Roberson High. The county also replaced the track at Owen High with a synthetic surface.
  • The county started a cafeteria addition at Avery’s Creek Elementary school during the summer. Officials anticipate the addition will be complete in December.
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About David Floyd
David Floyd is the Buncombe County reporter for the Mountain Xpress. He previously worked as a general-assignment reporter for the Johnson City Press. Email him at dfloyd@mountainx.com.

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