By Mark-Ellis Bennett –
The following is part two of our exclusive story on Biltmore High School
Historic Biltmore High School has undergone extensive renovations under the capable direction of architects Brian Moffitt and Alan McGuinn with ARCA Design, Beverly-Grant serving as the contractor, and a group of local investors. John Spake with Spake Real Estate is the listing agent and Capital Bank is providing the construction financing. It is now officially open and will soon be home to The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, Alta Vista Wealth Management, TS Orthodontics, Carolina Internal Medicine Associates, ARCA Design, Asheville Arthritis, and several others soon to be announced.
Moffitt said, “As far as the historic nature of the building is concerned, one of the things that we’ve enjoyed is that the building has just tremendous bones. It was very well constructed. At almost a hundred years old there’s not a crack in the walls. Considering it was built in 1927 it was remarkably advanced. The classroom floors are wood, but all corridors have concrete floors. They knew to use noncombustible construction for all the high traffic areas throughout the building.”
Buncombe County opened Biltmore High School only two years before the city opened Douglas Ellington’s Asheville High School less than one and a half miles away. “One of the things that’s neat about Biltmore High School is its location, sitting very proudly on top of the hill. It’s fun to imagine the rivalry that existed between those two schools with the pride they must have both had in their respective buildings.”
Respect for historic integrity is important to Moffitt. “We tried to preserve the building’s character as we adapted it to newer technologies. It’s fun to do, but especially fun to do with a client that’s committed to preserving the character instead of doing something as radical as tearing it down and preserving only the façade.”
Moffitt said two elevator towers were added to the building. “We did everything we could to match the brick and limestone. We’ve replaced all the windows with new ones that match the original ones. We love the window sizes, they make for magnificent spaces.” The original decorative copula on the roof of course remains, and a porte cochere has been added.
Bill McLean attended Biltmore School form fifth through eighth grade. He said forty years ago he didn’t think much about the school’s historical importance or construction.
“Obviously, now, it’s a different recollection. It’s a stately fixture in south Asheville and I very much like seeing it brought back to life.”
Bobby Carter said he went to elementary school on campus and his mother, Peggy Robena Smith, graduated Biltmore High School with Charles Koontz who years later became principal of T.C. Roberson High School. “My fondest memory is that’s where I got my first kiss — on the ball field, well actually behind the gym. I’ll never forget it. I think I was 13. I had been playing little league ball after school and was with my new girlfriend Vivian Campbell. I would love to know what ever happened to her.”
Carter grew up on Reed Street near his neighbor Roy Williams who is currently the head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of North Carolina. Williams attended Biltmore School from the second half of first grade through grade eight. “I could literally be at the school in five minutes. In my elementary school days I would leave school, go home and change clothes, and come back and hit the asphalt to play basketball.”
Williams remembers sneaking into the gym to play basketball. “It was dangerous the way I would do it because I would crawl up the outside and drop down from the windows. The same policeman caught me in there too many times so they worked it out with Mr. Norton, the principal at the time, for about a year and a half I had a key. If I was with my buddies we’d still sneak in cause I didn’t want to be responsible, but if I was by myself I’d use the key. I was crushed when I heard they demolished the gym.”
Williams said he and Gene Allen played basketball together. Allen was in the second to last graduating classes at Biltmore High School in 1961. “I believe Gene Allen was the only person in the history of the Biltmore gym who scored more basketball shots than I did. He was a great friend of mine who was a big-time player at Biltmore High.”
Allen said for over 41 years he lived in five different houses in the vicinity of Biltmore Village. “I knew the family, but I knew Roy first. His family moved in the same little house after I moved out. When I was a senior Roy was in the fifth grade and his sister was a freshman, so I’m a little older than Roy. We were a small school. Back then all we had was baseball and basketball, so I played a lot of basketball and got to know Roy.”
Like Williams, Allen fondly remembers the close rapport he had with the principal and teachers. “I guess in the whole high school we didn’t have 200 people, but you knew most everybody. We’ve had several class reunions, but eight or ten of us still get together for breakfast or lunch.”
One of the investors with the project, Bill Burgin, also went to school with Williams. “Roy’s one of the best. He deserves everything he’s been able to accomplish. He and I go back years and years.” Burgin grew up in the Biltmore area and attended classes through the ninth grade at the school. In the 1980s he remembers playing “pick-up games” at Biltmore School with Jamie Johnson, Randy Shepard, Bill Chambers, Rick Smith and basketball legends Brad Daugherty, Buzz Peterson and Michael Jordan.
In addition to Burgin the other investment partners are Biltmore Property Group Real Estate Trust with chairman Bill Bell and president and CEO John Bell, Howard Zimmerman, Pat Howard, Brad Goodson, Rick Grant, and Chip Vaughan. Burgin said, “John and Rick deserve the lion’s share of credit for making this a reality.” John Bell commended Allen Peele, Grant’s son-in-law, for his tremendous role in bringing this group of partners together. Moffitt said, “That’s what makes it such a neat thing, its local. This is homegrown money, homegrown talent, and homegrown labor.”