By Emily Williams
The rooms and halls of Shades Cahaba Elementary are ever-evolving.
For 100 years, the building has served as a space devoted to educating children and has been adapted along the way to fit the needs of generations of students.
Over the summer, a two-year renovation was completed to create a brand-new cafeteria and library.
To celebrate the building’s centennial, the Shades Cahaba Parent Teacher Organization has coordinated an Oct. 13 celebration.
According to PTO President Alexa McElroy, festivities will take place both on the horseshoe drive and inside the building.
“We’ll have a band playing music from the 1920s, face painting, food trucks – Swamp Monster, Farm Bowl and Edgewood Creamery – and we’ll have birthday cake, of course,” she said.
The Birmingham Zoo will take some of its ambassador owls, paying homage to the school’s mascot.
A highlight of the event will be a walk-through timeline of Shades Cahaba, currently being created by Shades Cahaba parent Shawn Wright, who is also an alumna.
Wright has been hard at work delving into the history of the school and digging up interesting facts and stories.
One of the best parts of the planning process for McElroy has been hearing about the school’s past.
“You’re hearing about the legacy of the school,” she said, “how the building has evolved and how much the neighborhood has changed.”
From 1920 until 1949, the building was home to Shades Cahaba High School, in the Jefferson County School System.
The high school had a strong athletics program, offering football and boys and girls basketball.
“There was a time when Shades Cahaba had the only field with lights,” McElroy said. In fact, it was the first high school in the state to feature lighting.
Additions were made beginning in the mid-1920s, but they stalled as the Great Depression set in. The building then underwent a complete repair in the 1940s.
Following the 1949 opening of Shades Valley High School, Shades Cahaba became an elementary school.
“One of the most interesting stories Shawn is working on is about the owl,” McElroy said. The 900-pound cast-concrete statue of an owl, a symbol for learning, sits atop a central gable of the school’s front facade.
During the repairs in the ‘40s, the owl was taken down from its perch and remained missing for many years.
“Somehow, a group found it on a vacant lot on Kensington Road, just sitting on a stump,” McElroy said. “We don’t know the entire story yet of how it was found, but we think the last few pieces of information will fall into place before the event.”
Looking to the Future
After walking through a timeline of the school’s past, attendees will have an opportunity to focus on the future.
In the lobby, the PTO will have a station where guests can grant a “birthday wish” for the school by donating to the PTO’s fund to purchase a new curtain for the school’s gym.
“We’ll also have a table where people can write their own birthday wishes for the next 100 years, and those wishes will go in a time capsule that will be placed in school,” McElroy said.