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Community members get sneak peek of new Fox Elementary design

A school building mad of brick with broken windows and a fence put up in front
Crixell Matthews
VPM News
A fire tore through Richmond's Fox Elementary School in February 2022. Students have been attending the formerly defunct Clark Springs Elementary since the fire.

Work to install a new roof on Richmond’s Fox Elementary School is expected to begin next month. School officials anticipate it will take a few months to complete the project. Meanwhile, a design plan for the renovated building is also underway — with final drawings expected by April.

The Fan District school was partially destroyed by a three-alarm fire last February.

The building’s renovation was discussed during a community meeting Thursday at Clark Springs Elementary — between the Oregon Hill and Randolph neighborhoods — which displaced Fox students currently attend. Dana Fox, chief operating officer for Richmond Public Schools, said local demolition company S.B. Cox is in the process of selecting a contractor for the roof work, which is part of an emergency procurement process.

“The emergency was: Make the building safe,” Fox said during the meeting Thursday. She noted that the roof wouldn’t have shingles installed until the reconstruction phase of the rebuild. School officials did not provide a timeline for when reconstruction would begin.

The design work is also under emergency procurement, so it will continue simultaneously while the roof is being secured. The school board voted to expedite design work back in June. Community members got a sneak peek at some design renderings Thursday night.

“The intent is to keep the original fabric of Fox,” Fox said, adding that includes making the outside of the building look like the original 1911 Fox Elementary.

Original historical features like panel doors, molding and trim will be restored to the extent possible and replaced where they’re missing, according to Kylan Shirley, project manager for the school design work at Quinn Evans. The firm has designed multiple projects in the greater Richmond area in recent years, including three modern libraries, the Institute for Contemporary Art, and renovation of the Chesterfield Career and Technical Center on Hull Street.

Shirley, who is also the parent of two Fox Elementary students, discussed some of the biggest changes in the new school floor plan Thursday. The planned design includes larger classroom sizes made possible by reducing the size of impractical spaces — like outdated boiler rooms that were no longer in use in the old building anyway.

“The boiler rooms are kind of a maze of spaces — combustion rooms and cold chambers,” Shirley told VPM News. “It kind of looks like you’re down in the catacombs, but they will be reconfigured into smaller, appropriately-sized spaces for the new systems.”

render of a design for an elementary school building
Render courtesy of Quinn Evans
The proposed design for the new Fox Elementary School includes larger classrooms and restores a music room.

An oversized bathroom that was being used as storage would be converted into an orchestra and band room, Shirley said. Additionally, two existing classroom trailers would be removed, and the space would be repurposed for physical education outside — tentatively including a basketball court, foursquare and a walking track around the perimeter.

Fox said they’ve had preliminary conversations with the city about installing the new outdoor gym: “They did not tell us no, so I feel like that is a win.”

First-grade Fox student Nadine, one of Shirley’s children, said she’s most excited about those outside spaces and wants to see a “ginormous playground” with lots of monkey bars, swings and more. Her older brother — third grader James Shirley — is excited about the new music areas.

“The music room will have a great view of the outside,” James said. “I’m a bassist, drummer and guitarist, so I love music and having sunshine while I play.”

There were several questions from Fox parents at the meeting, including some about the expected construction timeline. Dana Fox said once the roof work is complete, the school district will be able to start the competitive bidding process for contractors. The reconstruction work won’t be completed under emergency procurement.

Superintendent Jason Kamras told community members Thursday that he expects construction, once it begins, to take about 15 months to complete. Kamras said that means completion of the entire renovation won’t be done for about another two years — barring unforeseen circumstances. He added he’s working to ensure the project can move forward with or without settling the insurance money.

Specific details about cost were not discussed in the community meeting, though Dana Fox said that the district is pursuing state historic tax credits to help cover the cost. More details are likely to come up in next Tuesday’s school board meeting. In response to a cost-related question from school board member Mariah White, Kamras asked if they could “put a pin in” that conversation.

“I hope the development doesn’t get delayed,” said Diamonde Burns, the mother of a Fox kindergartener. “I just hope everything works out for the best, honestly.”

She added that she’d like to see additional parking for parents at the new Fox.

Brittany Bell, whose son is also in kindergarten at the school, said she likes the proposed layout and feels OK with the proposed timeline.

“It's a lot of work they're going to have to do, so I’m fine with that,” Bell said. “As long as he’s there before the fifth grade, I’m OK with it.”

Megan Pauly covers education and health care issues in the greater Richmond region.