The upcoming renovation to Cullman High School is looking more like reconstructive surgery, as opposed to a simple facelift — and officials say that is, mostly, a great thing.

With a new media center, two-story classroom wing, administrative space and a lecture hall on the way, passersby on 13th Street NE may need a sign to recognize the northeast face of CHS within the next few years.

The Cullman City Schools board has been working the past several months to develop a comprehensive plan to update the high school campus, and the preliminary architectural plans were introduced at a Tuesday night meeting.

The complete project is estimated to cost approximately $14 million, and the system will pay for the work with a bond, plus additional revenue from the recently passed countywide half-cent sales tax. Plans shown this week could still change before construction begins.

Rodney Steger and John Fuqua, with Fuqua & Partners Architects, say the current proposal calls for the demolition of the A and B classroom buildings, the administration building and the library to construct a large L-shaped structure in its place.

The move would drastically increase square footage, razing approximately 53,000-square-feet of usable space and replacing it with 86,000-square feet. The new, L-shaped building would become the centerpiece of the campus, and create a new entryway into the school.

Renovations to the auditorium, as well as an expansion to the front of the cafeteria to connect the auditorium lobby, are also in the works.

“Dealing with the layout of the campus, it is very unique, because its made up of a lot of buildings,” Steger said. “We’ll probably consolidate functions into more single buildings, so the challenge is to make use of the space there. Fifty years have passed since some of these were built, and a lot of time has passed since then. It’s a huge paradigm shift on how you view Cullman High School.”

The proposed media center would serve as the corner anchor for the L-building, featuring a glass facade to showcase an inside wall mural or hanging piece of art — perhaps even a decommissioned “Bearcat” World War II airplane — to expand on the modern design.

Officials hope to open bids this fall, and construction will likely take 12-14 months to complete. The construction schedule will be phased to minimize the distraction during next school year, and architects are working with the system now to decide the best approach.

Steger said his team is sensitive to the community’s passion to preserve the school’s history, so the design will likely incorporate historical aspects of the system and some Bearcat branding to make the new design familiar.

“We want to incorporate things about Cullman’s brand into the design, because that can make a real impact on students,” Steger said. “That goes beyond athletics, to band, drama and all those things. We want to build something with character that fits into the whole campus.”

By taking down older buildings —specifically A and B — Steger said it will allow designers to upgrade the most used, and arguably most dated, spaces on campus.

“They’ve had continual use since the 1960s and they’re just tired,” he said. “If you’re looking at new technology and what you want to do there, that is probably the best option.”

The grass quad at the center of campus will be preserved, and designers actually want to expand the area’s function by creating sidewalks leading to a centerpiece to increase student use.

“Students would actually be able to walk on the quad,” school board member Suzanne Harbin joked, referring to a long-standing rule that discourages students from cutting through the grass.

Harbin said she was impressed with the proposal, but has some reservations about just how radical the change will be the decades-old campus.

“I’m having a hard time as an alum looking at the school stripped of what I relate to that school,” she said. “It’s a beautiful design, but it is an adjustment.”

Superintendent Dr. Jan Harris said the design team could implement more historical aspects, which could also enhance the school’s downtown atmosphere.

“We’re going to look at the main entrance, to see if we can add a more historical aesthetic,” she said. “One thing we didn’t want to do was leave our location, because we love being a part of downtown, and we want to make downtown better by remodeling.”

* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.

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