Construction crews are three months in to the projected 13-month long renovation project to the Smoky Mountain High School gym and performing arts center. The contractor began laying concrete masonry units for the auditorium walls in late January. Jackson County officials held the groundbreaking ceremony in November 2012 and anticipate the project to be completed by the end of this year.
Smoky Mountain High School's current gym is the original structure built when the school first opened in 1960 under the name Sylva-Webster High School. The more than 50-year-old building has been crumbling, and commissioners recognized the need to improve the school's infrastructure. Jackson County Commissioners included the construction project into this fiscal year's budget, and a bid for $11.4 million for the project was approved in October of last year. Last year, county officials borrowed $10 million to finance a portion of the facility and earmarked a portion of local sales tax revenue to go towards debt service.
According to Jackson County Superintendent Mike Murray, the construction company for the project is Montieth Construction Corporation. “The size of the gym will be a 1500 seat capacity area, the performing arts center will be a 754 seat capacity, the approximate square footage – 56,930 square feet,” said Murray last week. “The Smoky Mountain High School addition is a gymnasium/ performing arts center joined by a common lobby.”
County Manager Chuck Wooten explained the details of the county's project. "The Smoky Mountain High School project is composed on two facilities joined by a common main lobby, a 1,500 seat gymnasium with a basement containing dressing rooms, a PE Classroom, training room, laundry room, and a wrestling warm up room," said Wooten. "The theater has 754 seats, performance stage, shop area, chorus/band rehearsal room, office, and dressing rooms. These two facilities including common lobby and concession area contain 56,930 square feet.
According to Wooten, the $11.4 million bid for the SMHS project also includes additional renovations to Blue Ridge High School. "This bid also included the improvements at Blue Ridge High School, so I cannot specifically quantify the actual price of the Smoky Mountain project," he said. "The total budget for this project is $13,168,650 and includes the construction cost, design fees, special testing costs, loose furnishings, and contingency."
Murray believes the new facility will give children greater opportunities in athletics as well as fine arts. “The new gym/fine arts center will provide Smoky Mountain High School with a facility that is capable of showcasing their students multiple talents,” he said. “Athletics and the arts can now be celebrated with a wonderful new building that should meet all the needs of a comprehensive modern high school. A great deal of planning has gone into both projects with input from coaches, architects, administration, board members and county commissioners.”
The idea to renovate the facilities at Smoky Mountain High has been 25 years in the making. While the school has a gym, they lack a performing arts center. The high school is known for its award-winning concert and show choir, and the new facility will give those students a place to perform. “We are very appreciative of the commitment provided to our children from both our School Board members and the county commissioners,” said Murray. “A special thank you also needs to go to the county manager that has had the vision to support our students even in a discouraging economic time. We have a community that works collaboratively daily and makes sure our children are a priority in Jackson County. These facilities will be put to wonderful use to support all of the creative programs that are in place within the school system. We are all extremely excited to see both of these projects starting to take shape.”