BRANDON — Hillsborough County school officials on Monday surveyed the weekend’s fire damage at McLane Middle School and began the work of making sure the campus is safe for students when they return in three weeks.
Fire Rescue officials believe lightning caused the Friday evening blaze to the “600” building, which housed seventh-grade classrooms. It will be a week before they have a full report, said spokesman Eric Seidel.
In the meantime, district officials want to make sure damage to the two-story building does not endanger students and staff elsewhere on campus, said district spokeswoman Tanya Arja.
The fire struck a campus that is more than a century old, and which is spread out among several distinct buildings.
McLane was an elementary school when it opened around 1914, then a K-8 school, then the first high school in Brandon. It takes its name from E.F. McLane, who was named principal in 1930 and served in that position until 1964.
In 1972, the district opened the school that is now Brandon High.
Over the years, enrollment at McLane Middle has fluctuated, and this year it is expected to house approximately 700 students.
This is the second major school fire in the district in less than two years. In late 2017, at the tail end of Hurricane Irma, Lee Elementary School in Tampa burned as the result of a power surge following an electrical outage.
Lee is now being rebuilt under a new name, Tampa Heights Elementary.
At the time, the Tampa Bay Times asked for records to determine whether there had been fire sprinklers at Lee. There were not. The list that was provided at the time did not include a sprinkler system for McLane either.
The explanation, from district officials, was that older buildings did not have sprinklers installed unless they were undergoing two major renovations — for example, a new roof and an air conditioning replacement. District spokesmen also said that, while fire sprinklers protect property, the school system practices other fire safety protocols, including regular drills, to protect children.
News of the McLane fire attracted an outpouring of offers of support from other schools and from the Hillsborough Education Foundation. Superintendent Jeff Eakins, who was at the fire scene on Friday evening, authorized payments of $1,000 to each of the seven classroom teachers to help them replace the items they lost.
Beyond those payments, principal Dina Langston has asked the community to hold off on collections and donations until she has time to assess the teachers’ needs.