Fire at historic Tampa school causes $5 million in damages

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Barbara Faliciano is devastated.

“You just want to cry,” she said.

In 1951, she attended Robert E. Lee Elementary School. Her granddaughter attended Lee and her great grandson is a student there now. She’s heartbroken to see it destroyed by fire.

“What history is gone now.”

Principal Beverly Smith, whose two daughters attend the school, is sad as well.

“There’s always the mourning part where you mourn the things you lost. There will be a rebirth. We’ll be fine. We’ll get through this, because nobody was hurt,” she said.

There has been a lot of speculation the fire may have been intentionally set, because the magnet school is in the middle of a controversy over dropping the name Robert E. Lee. But, the fire marshal said it doesn’t appear to be suspicious.

They are looking at reports of hearing popping sounds when the power was restored in the area after Hurricane Irma. It happened shortly before the fire started.

“We are focusing on that. One of the areas is the timing of when the power was reenergized to the building and we’re looking at that very closely,” said John Reed, Tampa Fire Marshal.

The district is moving the entire student body to Lockhart Elementary, just 1.4 miles away. The older students will be at Young Middle Magnet for a few weeks until portable classrooms are installed at Lockhart.

According to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser website, the value of the building is $2,700,000. The contents of the school is estimated at $2,275,000, for a total damage estimate of $4,975,000.

Based on input from city code enforcement, Hillsborough County Public Schools will decide the future of the building.

In the meantime, the school district said:

“Superintendent Jeff Eakins has authorized an emergency supplement for every staff member at Lee Elementary School. All full time employees at Lee Elementary will receive a $1,000 emergency supplement in their bank accounts, this Friday, September 15. Superintendent Eakins is aware that staff members lost personal items and items they cherished in their classrooms and offices during the tragic fire. The supplement will allow teachers and staff to replenish the items used to create a caring learning environment for all students.”

School resumes on Monday.

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