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Cost of UT fire is put at $200,000

Fire investigators don't know yet what caused a three-alarm fire Friday at the University of Tampa's McKay Auditorium, but university officials say the flames and the water it took to put them out caused about $200,000 in damage.

On Monday, carpeting, seating and parts of the ceiling inside the hall were soaked with water. A tarp covered the large hole burned in the roof after the fire engulfed a decorative dome capping the auditorium.

"They put a lot of water on it to put that fire out," said University of Tampa President David Ruffer, who was returning from vacation when he heard over the radio that a building was on fire on the campus. The university leases its buildings from the city of Tampa.

Before the fire Friday, a roofing crew had completed repairs to the cupola that capped the 67-year-old building and left the site around noon, said Bruce Savage, division chief and spokesman for the Tampa Fire Department. The cupola had been damaged during March's no-name storm.

By 2 p.m., the cupola was ablaze, with flames shooting as high as the minarets of nearby Plant Hall and black smoke billowing into the air. Firefighters, working in crews inside the building and on the roof, had the blaze under control by 2:49 p.m., said Deputy Fire Chief Aubrey Grant.

Fire investigators are interviewing members of the roofing crew as they try to piece together what happened, Savage said, but no one has been blamed in the fire.

Firefighters remained on the scene of the fire all night Friday, putting out blazes that erupted from smoldering embers in the space between the ceiling and the roof.

After consulting with contractors on Monday, university officials estimated repairs will cost $200,000, said Grant Donaldson, director of public affairs. The entire roof will have to be replaced, damaged carpeting and seating removed and the plaster ceiling taken down, he said. A wall will be built to block off an area that contains asbestos before the repairs begin.

The original cost of the octagonal brick building, known as Municipal Auditorium when it was finished in 1926, was only $300,000.

The building was designed by local architects Frances Kennard and Franklin O. Adams Jr., said Debra Alderson, a preservationist with the Historic Tampa/Hillsborough County Preservationist Board. Kennard also designed what is now the Belleview Mido Resort Hotel in Belleair and Hillsborough High School. Adams did a lot of residential work on Davis Islands.

Recently the University of Tampa has been talking about renovating the building to use as its business college. The fire will neither speed up nor slow down that project, Ruffer said, which the college estimates would cost $4-million to $5-million. If the project goes forward, the university would gut the interior of the building, remove 2,500 feet of asbestos and add three stories of classrooms and offices inside.

"We'll start the day after I get the check" to pay for the renovations, Ruffer said.

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