By Tim Gardner
For one of the most historic and milestone happenings in the 54-year old history of Avery County High School in Newland, school and county officials hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony Sunday, May 1 at the school to celebrate the completion of a massive construction and renovation project to the facility.
It was a long-anticipated event and one punctuated with colossal excitement.
Board of Education chairman John Greene, County Commission chairperson Martha Hicks, Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman, School Principal Ricky Ward, County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. and various students had featured roles in the program.
Other dignitaries attending included: Board of Education members Pat Edwards, Jane Bumgarner, Ruth Shirley and Kathy Aldridge; County Commissioners Dennis Aldridge, Tim Phillips and Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr.; and North Carolina State Senators Deanna Ballard, Warren Daniel and Ralph Hise. Many Avery High faculty members and other school system employees also attended.
All county residents and anyone else who wanted to attend the ceremony were invited and welcomed. Approximately 125 attended. They were served refreshments and all who wanted to see the interior of the new and renovated facilities were given a grand tour.
But Avery High students were the cornerstone to the event and they planned the event’s specific agenda. Students Brooke Cheuvront and Baker Bumgarner represented their classmates and everyone currently or previously associated with the school in cutting the ribbon recognizing completion of the new construction and renovations.
The ACHS Cast of “High School Musical” was a smash hit and entertained the audience to the zenith, performing the song “We’re All in This Together” during the ribbon-cutting program.
The school’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) Color Guard also had a significant part in the ceremony. The Color Guard is a group of four cadets that present the United States and Air Force flags at games and ceremonies. The cadets on the end carry rifles, while the middle-right cadet carries the US flag and the middle-right carries the Air Force flag.
The Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) is a federally-run program for high school and some middle school students that promotes citizenship, discipline and skill development in a military-inspired model and Avery High’s is known to perfectly exemplify those requirements as does other student clubs and organizations with their specific mandates at the school.
“I’m very pleased with the new construction and renovations as I know all our other students are. In fact, everyone associated with Avery High who has seen our new and improved facilities are most proud of them. They’re really awesome and we’re thankful they were done,” Avery High student Rylan Gardner said.
The school project consists of 56,468 square-foot additions and 19,974-square-foot of renovations. It will relieve growing student populations because of its massive space and provides visually appealing environments for students to learn and teachers to teach among other positive attributes.
It’s the largest new construction and renovations project at the school since it opened in 1968.
School and county officials have also maintained that the new construction and renovations will keep the county from having to build a whole new high school as they have now been incorporated with the rest of the school to make it an over-all state-of-the-art facility.
“Basically, it’s a totally new school in many aspects,” Brigman noted.
It took much longer than originally planned, but construction of the new wing and renovations to old sections of Avery County High School are a source of tremendous pride to everyone who has ever been associated with the high school in any capacity. Two of the school’s pod sections were demolished to build the new two-story wing and another pod, located in the center of the school was completely renovated.
“All our students, faculty, staff, school and county officials and county citizens are elated about the new construction and renovations at Avery County High School and are thrilled that it’s finally finished,” Brigman stated. “The school features some of the best and most modern facilities found on any campus anywhere. This project has made everyone involved with the school as proud as ever to be an Avery High Viking and from Avery County.”
Barrier, Jr. said the new construction and renovations project was a total team effort involving the entire county: “What other county could build a new school wing addition and do a massive renovation to parts of the school other than Avery during a pandemic (coronavirus)? Avery Countians again proved that together we can! Commissioner Hicks thanked the most important people for their trust and prayers and those are our taxpayers. She mentioned the students who go or will go there for their high school education and how proud the county’s citizens are of all of them. Avery High’s new additions and renovations further make it is a beautiful, bright place to learn and everyone in the county and involved with the school is proud of the outcome of the new wing and renovations.”
The construction/renovations project began in 2019 and was originally planned to be finished by Spring/Summer of 2020, then the closing time was moved to late 2020 to various times in 2021 and finally to March 31, 2022. Plans and specifics of the ribbon cutting ceremony were then made and finalized.
The new and renovated facilities include utility improvements and many new classrooms and offices. All have Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.
Students, faculty and other staff members have been using parts of the newly constructed and renovated sections already finished for a few months.
New front, back and side parking lot paving at the school was also done with the construction and renovations project.
Boomerang Design of Charlotte, NC is the project’s architect and Branch Builds, Inc. of Roanoke, VA and Charlotte submitted the lowest bid of $17,225,279.00 for all aspects, including general work, alternates and contingencies involved in completing the construction and renovations, and conducted all the new construction and renovations.
Barrier, Jr. said additional costs not included in that $17,225,279.00 added up to the approximate $20-plus million project total and included various miscellaneous costs such as attorney’s fees, furniture, engineering fees, insurance and permits surveys.
The county set aside $20,296,000.00 for the project, he also told.
Barrier, Jr. added that he is especially elated that the county financed the Avery High Construction and Renovations Project without raising county taxes or having to hold a bond referendum.
“This is a feat of astounding proportions considering that it is one of the largest and most significant projects in our county’s 91-year history (designated as a county in 1911) and one in which all our commissioners and all others who have others who have worked with the project can take enormous delight.”
Avery County High School first opened for the 1968-69 school year following the consolidation of Cranberry, Crossnore and Newland High Schools.
Photos Courtesy of Avery County Schools, Dr. Dan Brigman, Superintendent