A last walk down (around) memory lane   

Former Cullman Middle School students Mandi Hulsey Lynn (left) and Jennifer Kreps White (right) pose for a selfie in front of their former lockers on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, at the final walkthrough of the famous “round building.” (Cayla Grace Murphy)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Cullman Middle School’s (CMS) signature round building was opened one last time to the public on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 10, 2023, for students and educators past and present to bid bittersweet goodbyes and walk the halls one final time. Pockets of residents gathered around old lockers and peeked into locked classrooms with stacked desks, many with the lights turned out, remembering days gone by.

The iconic round building welcomed its first class of students 50 years ago, boasting an innovative open-concept floor plan for collaborative learning. It is set to be demolished in January with a new building taking its place.

Former students Mandi Hulsey Lynn and Jennifer Krepps White, who attended CMS in the early 1990s, posed for a selfie in front of their old lockers and shared stories of burst pipes, skipped PE classes and playing cards.

“We survived the round building!” laughed Lynn.

Amid dozens of other former students shuffling through the halls and reminiscing on their preteen years, one teacher, Mary Yates, shared her perspective on her time in the building as one of the founding educators. Yates taught English in the building from 1974 to her retirement in 2012.

“I had a great experience teaching. I had some of the best mentors; I had two ladies who had quite a few years – Mrs. Branch and Mrs. Stisher – to the left and right of me. I felt so comfortable! I knew whatever happened, they’d take care of me,” she laughed, explaining that since the walls weren’t erected yet, classrooms were often combined and a team approach was taken, offering a confidence boost to a new educator in the public school system. Over time, the open concept fell out of vogue once more, and walls separating the classrooms came in.

“The team teaching approach started going out the window and we started going back to the more individualized approach. I loved the team teaching, and goodness knows I learned so much from those ladies!” Yates exclaimed, with a tinge of sadness. “It’s over half of my life that I’ve spent up here, so I have some mixed emotions about that.”

Cullman City Schools Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff stood by the entrance of the building, greeting former students and sharing that while it can be a bit emotional saying goodbye to a building that housed many former students during their most formative years, it was important to the school system to open the doors one last time and at least allow residents to do so.

“We’re excited that we were able to open this building today to have all of these people who once went to school here come in and give them that last opportunity to walk through, see the classrooms and go back in their memories,” he said, gesturing to the scattered residents climbing the stairs to peek down into former classrooms, elbowing their buddies with tales of “remember when?”

Kallhoff said with demolition scheduled for the first week of January, the round building will be gone by February.

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