by Cindy McMahon, Reynolds District Representative, Buncombe County School Board
Umbrellas are useful outdoors, but when our students are sitting in class, we expect the roof to do its job! At the present time that is not the case at Community High School in Swannanoa, and at our August meeting, the School Board approved an architect and construction manager to overhaul the facility.
Community is our alternative high school, serving students from across Buncombe County and Asheville City. With about 140-200 students at any given time, Community High class size is usually at least half the national norm; there is an on-site childcare center, and the classes and curriculum are designed to help students with many different needs to get back on track to graduation. It’s a vital resource for our school system.
Community’s beautiful building was built in 1926 as Swannanoa High School. When Charles D. Owen High School opened in 1955, Swannanoa High closed and the building then served as the middle school for the eastern part of the county before becoming the alternative high school.
Today, the building is in rough shape. Not only does the roof leak into the third floor classrooms, but the building needs rewiring, there are moisture issues in the basement, and the only source of cooling comes from window air conditioners that break down on a regular basis. Without an elevator, the school is not accessible to students who can’t climb stairs. On cold days, the old-fashioned radiators interrupt the teachers with their clanking, shaking, and rattling.
Repairing all that’s wrong with this building is simply not an option; it would cost more to fix it than to build a new school. So a creative team came up with a hybrid option, which retains the beautiful old facade and gym, and adds a modern classroom wing and cafeteria.
Principal Jeff Conard makes no bones about it: “We have been in need of a new school for some time. Our students, staff and I are thrilled that BCS is proceeding with plans for the new Community High School. We could not be any more excited. We look forward to its completion!”
If all goes as planned with the design process, we hope to begin the work immediately after the coming school year. It will be a phased construction process, so that we can continue teaching Community High students without interruption.
Personally, I could not be more thrilled that we are moving forward with the Community High project. Some of our most at-risk students attend this school. We need to make sure that they have a facility that will help them get to the finish line, and not make it harder. These students should be a top priority, and their school should reflect it. This is what education is all about.