A Tale of Two Schools

Built in 1953, Isaac Dickson Elementary sits just beyond downtown Asheville’s borders at 125 Hill St. Teachers and students alike cite a wide variety of problems, including a leaky roof and windows, unwieldy corridors, mold, insufficient storage, inadequate lighting and antiquated heating and cooling systems.


During a recent rainy spell, notes third-grade teacher Rachel Reeser, her wall turned into "a waterfall," ruining books and papers. In a letter urging the commissioners to fund a new building, she also cited problems with mice and with windows "so old and drafty you can feel the cold air when you’re standing nearby." As part of a project on government, many of Reeser's students also wrote to the commissioners.

Meanwhile, Principal Brad Johnson reports that the grounds lack basic safety measures such as fencing to buffer students from a nearby homeless encampment.

Besides addressing those issues, says Charlie Glazener, communications director for the Asheville City Schools, the new building would also fit the magnet school’s official theme: experiential learning. Proposed features include outdoor classrooms, an artificial wetland and a large community garden.

Asheville Middle School suffers from some of the same infrastructure problems plaguing Dickson.

Located at 197 S. French Broad Ave., the school's main structure was built in 1965 to serve African-American high school students; when Asheville High was desegregated in 1970, the former black high school became Asheville Middle.

The main thing Principal Cynthia Sellinger wants is a building that supports the school's team-teaching approach. "More collaborative spaces for teachers to meet, for students to meet in small groups to work on projects," Sellinger explains. "So much instruction now is with small groups of kids. The teacher is a facilitator, not a stand-up-and-lecture — that's not the best practice anymore."

The new middle school would be built on what’s now a parking lot and a field at the existing site. Unlike the Isaac Dickson plan, which would temporarily shift the 466 students to William Randolph School in Montford, the nearly 800 middle school students would continue using the existing facility until the new one's ready. After the old structure is demolished, plans call for converting the site into a public park.

"We want to draw folks to the school and really make it an anchor for that neighborhood," says architect Chad Roberson.