Advertisement
  1. Education

District will rebuild Lee Elementary, burned in fire, if School Board approves

Lee Elementary in Tampa, vacant since a fire in September 2017, could be rebuilt under a proposal made public Friday by Hillsborough County school officials. [JAMES BORCHUK | Times]
Published Oct. 5, 2018

TAMPA — A beloved 100-year-old school that weathered controversy over its name and last year suffered a raging fire will be rebuilt, subject to a vote by the Hillsborough County School Board.

District officials say they will bring a plan to the board Oct. 16 to reopen Lee Elementary at its original location, 305 E Columbus Drive in Tampa Heights.

RELATED: Firefighters battle to save Robert E. Lee Elementary in Tampa Heights

Contractors will preserve the school's red brick exterior walls, spokeswoman Tanya Arja said. The inside will be redesigned to comply with modern building standards, with wider hallways and a larger cafeteria and media center.

Lee, the district's first magnet school, offers programs in technology and world studies. Since the September 2017 fire, its student body of slightly more than 300 has been meeting at nearby Lockhart Elementary.

Lee was engulfed in flames at the tail end of Hurricane Irma, which caused an area-wide power outage. In the early evening, when power returned, an electrical surge is believed to have sparked the blaze.

The building had no fire sprinklers, and its electric wiring was housed in a wood-frame attic.

Fire investigators speculated that Irma's heavy rains and wind whipped the wire casings so violently, the system was vulnerable when the power came on. The roof, which was compromised, had two decorative cupolas that provided ventilation and helped spread the flames.

Rescue teams had to pour more than 850,000 gallons of water into the building to extinguish the fire, which was still smoldering more than 12 hours later, district leaders said. "Water damage to the interior was extensive and irreversible," they wrote in a statement Friday.

Originally called the Michigan Avenue Grammar School, the school was given the name of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in 1943. Supporters, including a fiercely loyal parent group, say that for more than a decade, the school has simply been called "Lee."

Despite the rebranding, Lee incurred criticism in 2015 and 2016, when many Southern cities began to dismantle monuments to the Confederacy. The school district was contemplating a renaming when the fire struck.

More than a year of insurance negotiations followed, with the district rejecting a $9.2 million offer in January that it considered "low-ball."

Under the scenario described Friday, money will be paid directly to Fleischmann-Garcia Architects and Planners, and JE Dunn Construction, a team the board hired at its last meeting on Tuesday.

The district's insurance carrier will pay the full cost, but only if the school is rebuilt, officials said Friday. If the district chose not to build, it would receive about 10 percent of the insurance money, to cover lost classroom materials and equipment.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or msokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. A school bus travels the early morning streets of Pasco County on the way to the first day of classes in 2017.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  2. Transgender student Drew Adams speaks with reporters outside of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Adam's fight over school restrooms came before a federal appeals court Thursday, setting the stage for a groundbreaking ruling. Adams, who has since graduated from Nease High in Ponte Vedra, Fla., won a lower court ruling last year ordering the St. Johns County school district to allow him to use the boys' restroom. The district has since appealed. RON HARRIS  |  AP
    The closely watched case of Drew Adams, once a high school student in Florida, is heard by a three-judge panel in Atlanta.
  3. Stephen Ailing, 54, faces a battery charge. Pasco County Sheriff's Office
    Stephen Ailing, who faces a battery charge, teaches music at Sunray Elementary in Holiday.
  4. Representatives from the United School Employees of Pasco, on the left, present their latest pay request to the district's bargaining team during talks on Oct. 24, 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff
    Teachers have yet to reach a deal on their contract.
  5. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. It has met just once more since then. The Florida Channel
    Lawmakers have yet to set an aggressive agenda beyond talk of teacher pay as the 2020 legislative session nears.
  6. FILE - In a Monday, Dec. 11, 2017 file photo, transgender teen Drew Adams, left, leaves the U. S. Courthouse with his mother Erica Adams Kasper after the first day of his trial about bathroom rights at Nease High School, in Jacksonville, Fla. The transgender student's fight over school bathrooms comes before a federal appeals court Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, setting the stage for a groundbreaking ruling. Drew Adams, who has since graduated from Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, won a lower court ruling in 2018 ordering the St. Johns County school district to allow him to use the boys' restroom. (Will Dickey/The Florida Times-Union via AP, File) WILL DICKEY  |  AP
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  7. A bird's-eye view of USF St. Petersburg, which this week announced a new member of the Campus Board. She is Melissa Seixas, a Duke Energy executive who earned her master's degree at USF.
    News and notes about K-12 schools and colleges in Pinellas County.
  8. An LGBTQ Pride march participant walks under a large rainbow flag in New York earlier this year. School Board policy regarding LGBTQ students has been a frequent topic of discussion in recent months in Pasco County. CRAIG RUTTLE  |  AP
    The discourse is more civil and respectful, two weeks after a session that many deemed hate-filled and vile.
  9. The Florida Legislature so far has has left Gov. Ron DeSantis to set most education policy priorities for 2020.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  10. Florida Senator Tom Lee, R- Thonotosassa. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times] SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES
    The Senate Education Committee will tackle some high-profile issues in its final meeting before session.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement