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Richmond School Board spends half a million on temporary home for Fox students

Water douses building
Water is sprayed over Fox Elementary School in Richmond after a fire earlier this month. (Photo: Scott Elmquist/Style Weekly)

Richmond School Board members voted unanimously on Tuesday to allocate half a million dollars for renovations to wherever they decide to place Fox Elementary students.

On Feb. 11, a fire erupted in Fox Elementary School and engulfed the building in flames. No one was injured in the blaze, but students were forced to return to virtual learning the following week until the board finds a new location for their classrooms.

Superintendent Jason Kamras told the board he’s still considering several options for the school’s new home. The frontrunner is currently the abandoned Clark Springs Elementary School near Hollywood Cemetery.

“I continue to believe that Clark Springs is our best option for a number of reasons. One, it is in our portfolio, we have full control over it and it is already insured and has all the necessary coverages and things that we would need that other locations would not have,” Kamras said. “It has excellent outdoor facilities for children to use and parking availability as well. And finally, it is close to the Randolph neighborhood where a chunk of Fox students live.”

However, the superintendent says he’s also considering other options to house Fox students, including an offer from Saint Gertrude High School to use their facilities. If neither school building works out, Kamras said some grade levels could be housed in different locations throughout the city.

“The primary site that we have heard recommendations for is Saint Gertrude’s,” Kamras said. “The site is large enough to hold all of Fox. It does have several issues that would not make it ideal for Fox. Namely, as it was a high school, all of the bathrooms are outfitted for high school… not for children of the age that Fox children are at. It's not ADA compliant. It has one boiler that is about to fail.”

School board members agreed that Clark Springs is a good contender to temporarily house Fox students, though they had concerns over the habitability of the building. But according to Kamras, the $500,000 that the board agreed to spend on renovations to the new location would cover the cost of these repairs.

“It is, cosmetically, not the most appealing today, but I think that can be very quickly remedied. And the more serious issues, roof leaks, some plumbing issues, tile repair and so on, I do believe can be addressed expeditiously,” Kamras said.

Kamras said that money, which will come from the board’s capital fund, can also be spent adapting sites like Saint Gertrude to accommodate elementary school students, but board members resisted the idea of spending funds to renovate properties outside of their portfolio. Instead, members like Dawn Page said they supported investing that money in their own buildings.

“Clark Springs is in our portfolio, it’s one of the buildings that we manage,” Page said. “Why would we spend money on a building such as St. Gertrude, which is not in our portfolio?”

Board members also expressed concern that there won’t be enough classrooms in Clark Springs to house all of Fox’s students. Kamras confirmed that the number of rooms in the building falls short but said administrators have plans for how to address the issue.

“It is a couple of classrooms short in terms of the need for Fox. But given the way the school is set up, there are some creative solutions too,” Kamras said. “The long-term solution, or longer-term solution, would be to move the trailers from Fox to Clark Springs. They were unaffected by the fire and are in good working condition, it just takes some time to hook up all the infrastructure.”

Kamras was hopeful that the renovations needed to prepare a new space for Fox students to learn will be ready by the end of spring break, which is about six weeks away.

“If not for the spring, then for the fall. But if we can get it done quickly, then… spring,” Kamras said.

As far as the future of the Fox building goes, the superintendent had good news for the board on Tuesday. He told members that once an investigation into the fire at the school concludes, the school’s insurance policy is expected to cover the entire cost of rebuilding it.

“We are happy to report that our policy does cover the replacement cost of the facility,” Kamras said. “That is a significantly better situation than merely the assessed value of the property, which is somewhere in the order of $13 million. And so if the replacement cost is more than that, then the insurer would pay for that additional amount.”

That investigation is expected to continue for about another month.

At the next regular meeting of the board on March 7, Kamras said he will make an official recommendation on where Fox students should be temporarily housed.