Brad Blackburn wanted to visit his old school one more time before it’s demolished next month. He came on Friday with his wife, Shelly, and mother, Bobbie, who both were teachers at the school, and decorated with walls with their names and those of his two sons, also alumni.
Asheville Middle School, a fixture on South French Broad Avenue since 1965, will be demolished in July and replaced with a new building adjacent to the old one.
The school was open for one final day on Friday to allow former teachers and alumni to wander through. At a table in the lobby, they were encouraged to sign a guest book and take a Sharpie pen to write their names on the walls and lockers. Visitors also could sign up to receive a brick after the building is demolished.
Emily Thomas, of the class of 1994, heard about it Thursday and came, along with two friends, Connie Carland and Marie Vaughan.
As the three wandered the halls, with Thomas’s husband, Matt, memories were spurred by specific classrooms, stairwells and doorways.
“Oh, I fell flat right over there,” Vaughan said as they entered what once was their math classroom. “I was so embarrassed.”
“Oh, Connie, remember when you caught the locker room on fire?” Thomas asked as they passed a girl’s rest room.
It seems the adolescent girls enjoyed spraying hairspray on the wall and then lighting it to watch the flames creep up the wall. The fire was a small one and no one was ever in any danger.
“They took away my hair spray, which we needed then because we wore our bangs so high,” Carland said.
The three wandered from classroom to classroom, signing the walls in the rooms where they attended classes.
“Oh, look, the ISS room,” Carland said. “I spent a little time in there.”
“I never did,” Thomas replied. “In-school suspension. I guess I was pretty well behaved.”
Classrooms were emptied of desks, although some chairs remained, scattered across the floors. Cabinets, mostly empty, stood open. A few microscopes sat on desks in a science classroom, and a partial model of a human sat on the floor in a biology classroom. Posters encouraged students to, among other things, study hard and be mindful of what they said in texts and e-mails.
Shelly Blackburn took photos of the band room, where her boys, now students at UNC Chapel Hill, learned to play drums (Thomas) and tuba (Brady). Brad Blackburn wrote their names on the wall. The room was bare except for a few drums against the front wall.
“We met here in this school,” Blackburn said, nodding toward his wife. “My mother and she were teachers and my mother introduced us. In all, members of this family spent 31 years in this building.”
In the gym, Robert Louis Hardy shot baskets. Hardy, an African-American, was a member of the first nonsegregated class to graduate from what was then South French Broad High School.
The school opened in 1965 and was predominately African-American, replacing the closed Stephens-Lee High, a segregated school.
“The district was desegregating gradually, but it was ordered to integrate in 1965,” Hardy said. “We didn’t have many white kids here, but we got along fine with those who were here.”
In 1970, the two high schools were consolidated at what is now Asheville High School, where there were racial tensions. When the high schools were consolidated, the South French Broad School became Asheville Junior High and then Asheville Middle School.
“They didn’t want African-American trophies in the lobby of the high school,” said Wardell Cunningham, a retired teacher. “It was OK in the end, but it took awhile.”
Cunningham, who taught art, typing, math, social studies and science during his 22 years at the school, was scrawling “Ain’t no ham like Cunningham,” on the wall when Michelle Wooten, class of 1986, spotted him.
“Oh, you could get us dancing and cheering at pep rallies,” she said as she hugged him. The two traded memories before parting to write their names on other walls.
For Royanna Williams, class of 1990, the visit was bittersweet.
“I’m in tears,” she said. “I understand we need to progress and get bigger, but this is my childhood.”
Nearby, Williams spied Ellen Goodell, her government teacher, who retired in 2005.
“It’s kind of fun to come back and see this before it’s replaced,” Goodell said.
Mikaela Turner, class of 2012, browsed through boxes and stacks of books in the lobby, looking for textbooks she might have used.
“I’m feeling pretty nostalgic right now,” she said, tossing a book back into a box. Her sister, Amanda Marshall, class of 1998, stood nearby.
“It all seemed so big when we were children,” she said. “It seemed so overwhelming when we walked into that door for the first time. Now it’s going to be gone.”
Everything that can be salvaged will be out of the building by July 5 and demolition will begin on the sixth. The new school will open to students in August and construction will be completed by February 2017.