RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — An investigation into the cause of the fire that engulfed William Fox Elementary and closed its doors has stalled due to “structural issues” that have kept teams from entering the building safely.
A devastating fire sparked at Fox Elementary, built in 1911 and located in the city’s Fan District, on the night of Feb. 11. The three-alarm fire, which firefighters battled overnight, destroyed or badly damaged much of the school’s roof and top floor.
A Richmond Fire Department spokesperson wrote in an email that investigators would resume work once the school building is stabilized and safe to enter.
“It’s routine for fire investigations to take longer than initially estimated,” Richmond fire spokesperson Chrys Slaughter wrote. “In the case of Fox, structural issues were identified that must be addressed before the multiple investigative teams can proceed safely into the building to complete their investigations.”
In the aftermath of the fire, questions emerged over the school’s alarm system, the response to the blaze and an existing mice problem at Fox Elementary. A public records request revealed that Principal Daniela Jacobs sought repairs for the school’s alarm system 10 days before the fire.
According to the initial investigation from Richmond Public Schools and fire department, the school district’s two-way emergency radio was not being fully monitored and the emergency phone line was not forwarded to the custodial supervisor’s phone on the day of the fire. The district’s custodial manager in charge of security was asleep when they received a text alerting them of a fire alarm going off at Fox.
Fox Elementary students and staff went to virtual learning in the wake of the fire that shuttered the doors of the school, resuming in-person instruction at First Baptist Church in mid-March.
Students and staff are expected to move into the shuttered Clark Springs Elementary by April 25, according to the school division. Concern over mold and asbestos found in Clark Springs has led to repairs and updates for the school that have cost nearly $500,000. The district estimates that another $300,000 would be needed.
The Richmond School Board voted unanimously in March to renovate Fox Elementary instead of demolishing and rebuilding the school.