RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — After a massive fire decimated the 110-year-old William Fox Elementary School at 2300 Hanover Avenue in Richmond, many have been left wondering how this could happen.
8News has requested access to the 9-1-1 and dispatch calls from Friday’s fire, as well as information about sprinkler systems in Richmond Public Schools’ (RPS) older buildings, 10 of which are at least a century old. A spokesperson for the fire department confirmed Tuesday that Fox had not been retrofitted for sprinklers, due to the age of the school.
RPS and the City of Richmond’s Department of Fire & Emergency Services each released respective timelines of what happened in the hours leading up to, during and after the fire at Fox Elementary. The information from RPS revealed that the school division’s fire alarm panels notify its alarm company via phone line. However, the panel at Fox had not been updated to reflect the 10-digit dialing requirement with the 804 area code, which went into effect on Oct. 24, 2021.
8News reached out to the school division to see whether this is the case with alarm panels in other RPS buildings, as well, and is awaiting a response.
With Fox students set to return to learning on Wednesday in a virtual setting, the focus is on what comes next for the school community.
“We are right here with you, and going to do everything we possibly can to get kids back into a physical space as soon as possible,” William Fox Elementary School Principal Daniela Jacobs said during a virtual community meeting Monday night. “We will rebuild Fox on that site, and I’m not sure if that’s a renovation or a complete new build, but Fox will rise again.”
Questions about the status of the building, constructed in 1911, are pending RPS’ insurance company’s review. But Superintendent Jason Kamras echoed the sentiment that Fox would be rebuilt on its current site, one way or another.
“We would approach this as any, basically, new school construction,” he said. “We’d have a whole committee of staff and families and students and community members all involved in the design process. So, absolutely, we want to make sure that Fox 2.0 is reflective of the hopes and dreams of the community.”
Jacobs said that she hopes virtual learning will continue for no more than three weeks, at which point students and staff would move into a new location for instruction for the remainder of the academic year. But that is not a concrete timeline and could fluctuate based on what sites are available.
“We have received offers from St. Gertrude’s, Beth Ahabah, St. James, from the Science Museum, from the Great Minds offices, other churches; many different options,” Kamras said. “We’re going through each of them, trying to assess what makes sense, and there’s a number of factors that we’re looking at. Obviously, the state of readiness to absorb the entire Fox community — and we are trying to keep the community together.”
The superintendent said that school administrators are also looking at potential costs involved with relocating the Fox community to a new site for the remainder of the academic year, as well as capacity and proximity for families.
“We’re hoping, at some point next week, to have a better sense of what makes the best sense for the short term and for the long term,” Kamras said.
As for the cause of Friday’s fire, that remains under investigation. Fire officials told 8News that this process “could take a while,” due to the magnitude of the fire and resulting damage.
8News has also requested records of inspections for Fox Elementary conducted by RFD, which are supposed to be completed annually. A record of last year’s routine inspection in the building has not yet been provided to 8News. But those publicly available showed that there was a routine elevator inspection in 2020, and a comprehensive fire and electrical systems inspection in August of 2018.