Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

RPS says no insurance money taken off the table for Fox elementary

Fox Elementary school hallway
Scott Elmquist
VPM News
Reporters were guided through the charred structure of William Fox Elementary School in the Fan District on Wednesday.

School district officials expect an updated payout estimate from VAcorp in March.

Officials from Richmond Public Schools gave a brief update Wednesday morning about the rebuild of William Fox Elementary School, before allowing reporters to tour the charred structure.

A three-alarm fire severely damaged the Fan District school last February, leaving the building without a roof and open to the elements for more than a year. While most of the first-floor ceiling remains, there’s a gaping hole in the middle of the school where the dome-like cupola fell from the rooftop through the second-story auditorium floor.

Some classroom walls and doors still have remnants of brightly colored paint, though it’s peeling. There are scant reminders of the building’s old life: Some partially intact chalkboards with scrawled notes remain, as well as hooks for students’ backpacks in the hallway and a “this is an inclusive space” sticker on a window outside the school’s old main office.

A mural in the school’s basement outside what was — and will again become — the school’s cafeteria remains largely intact, but RPS Chief Operating Officer Dana Fox said it will be replaced. There’s also some standing water in the school’s basement.

Fox told reporters the shoring, stabilization, demolition and cleaning are “100% complete,” and she said “substantial” mold growth has been removed, the result of standing water that accumulated last spring and summer. Some of the flooring buckled from water damage and, according to Fox, all of the flooring will need to be replaced.

According to Fox, negotiations are still underway with VAcorp, the district’s insurance company, about how much it will pay toward a new Fox Elementary building.

“At no time have we been accused of being negligent or has money been taken off the table for Fox,” she said. “In fact, we are working to have more money presented for Fox.”

Fox said VAcorp completed a reassessment of property damage at the school in early January — and added she expects the district to receive a payout estimate in March. She said the company’s initial assessment was done last March.

“Obviously, it [the March 2022 assessment] didn't adequately address what the real significant hurdles were going to be to rebuild this structure,” Fox told reporters.

Meanwhile, Fox said VAcorp has agreed to give the district an initial payment of $3 million to start work in April on installing a new, permanent roof. This amount will be deducted from the new payout estimate.

S.B. Cox — the company contracted for the demolition and stabilization work — will also install the roof. Right now, Fox said the company is “prepping the tops of the walls” and is removing some of the brickwork to begin putting on roof trusses once they arrive in 4-6 weeks.

The firm designing the building, Quinn Evans, has estimated it will cost between $25 million and $27 million — including the roof.

City Councilmember Katherine Jordan, whose district includes the Fan, said $200 million in general obligation bonds will be available in July for school construction needs.

School board member Mariah White said she plans to introduce a motion to reserve $15 million of that funding for Fox Elementary, in case the insurance company does not ultimately cover the project’s entire cost.

“We are Fox strong, and we will be back in 2025,” White said. “I will ensure that just because I am requesting the $15 million, that we don’t bump any other schools out of their projects.”

Woodville Elementary near Creighton Court was identified by school officials several years ago as a priority for new construction, as were renovations to Fairfield Court Elementary — not far from Woodville — and J.L. Francis Elementary in South Richmond.

Updated Feb. 23: A previous version of this story cited Katherine Jordan as saying the bonds that could be used to rebuild Fox would be financed using meals tax revenue. Meals tax revenue gives the city the debt capacity to acquire bonds.

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