Behind the facade, a new school in Swannanoa

Work is likely to begin on the Community High School building in 2017

Fred McCormick

A new representative on the Buncombe County School Board is not the only change coming to the the Owen schools district.

Major renovations and new construction are in store for the building that was once Swannanoa High School and is now Community High School, a school that serves students at risk of dropping out. Plans call for renovating the historic facade and building a new school building behind it.

Plans call for the facade of the old Swannanoa High School to be saved and a new building to be built behind it.

The $9 million project will be done by Hickory Construction Co., the company that built the recently opened Enka Intermediate School. The Buncombe County Board of Education approved a contract unanimously at its Sept. 1 meeting.

The project has been the topic of discussion for a long time, said Tim Fierle, Buncombe County Schools director of facilities and planning.

“The first thing we looked at was what would it take to renovate the building to find out what it would take to meet the (handicap) accessibility requirements, current codes and meet the instructional needs of the school,” he said. “We looked at moving(Community High School) off-site and checked with the county to see if there was property. We circled back around and took a look at partial renovations to the existing building.”

Former Owen schools district representative Chip Craig, who did not seek re-election to another term, was happy to see the Community High School program remain in the Swannanoa Valley, he said.

“It’s well-needed," he said. “We originally looked at renovating (the whole building), and that would be a couple of million dollars more than building a new one. So we had a discussion about moving the program. But then what happens with the building? Because it doesn’t have a lot of potential uses in its current condition.”

Craig said he felt the build-and-renovate solution that the school board came up was a “great one.”

“Keep the facade, keep the history, keep that cool old gym,” he said. “But yet have a modern building kind of tucked behind the facade. That saves money and keeps the school here.”

The project is now in the design process, according to Fierle. Plans call for a new two-story classroom and administration building to be built next to the existing gym. “But before we do that we have to relocate the daycare that is in an auxiliary building," Fierle said.

The daycare will be moved into modular buildings  - a “huge upgrade” over the current facility, he said. Those buildings could go up in mid-April, during next year's spring break.

Fierle hopes the work on the school building will begin when school ends in June. The project could be finished by early summer of 2019, Buncombe County Schools Superintendent Tony Baldwin said.

“The intent of the timeline is to keep a minimal disruption to the operations of the school,” Baldwin said. “We always try to give conservative projections for these timelines.”

The project will provide an adequate home for a program that’s “extremely important” to the school system, Baldwin said. Community High School, an alternative school that serves 140-200 students, is designed to reduce the number of students who drop out of the Buncombe County Schools system.

“It give us an opportunity to reduce classroom size and address issues that prevent students from graduating,” Baldwin said. “We also have a program there for young mothers. That's also a very important program because, if it wasn’t in place, many of those students could be potential dropouts.”

The county has budgeted $9 million for the construction work on the project, according to Fierle.

To read more about the historical significance of the building, go to this Black Mountain News story.