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Crews clear way for Fox fire investigation to continue: 'It could've collapsed'

Crews clear way for Fox fire investigation to continue: 'It could've collapsed'
Posted at 5:03 PM, May 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-04 18:36:45-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The investigation into what caused William Fox Elementary to go up in flames will soon resume now that crews are working to make sure the building is sound and secure.

On Wednesday morning, a group of Fox fathers reclaimed PTA picnic tables that have been sitting unused on the school's lawn for months. While loading the tables up to be taken to Clark Springs seemed like a simple task, it actually represented significant progress.

At the same time, Richmond Public Schools (RPS) began a much larger operation to stabilize the century-old school nearly three months after it was destroyed in a fire.

"It's a huge step," Fox parent, Josh Bennett said. “There's certainly been some anxiety here in the neighborhood, just because for so long, they haven't been able to make any progress on doing demo stuff.”

In the weeks following the fire, parents told the CBS 6 Problem Solvers they were frustrated by a perceived lack of urgency to preserve the building as it remained uncovered and exposed to the elements.

RPS initially said it submitted stabilization permits to the city by March 31. However, the application was incomplete, and the additional papers weren't fully received until April 19, causing a delay in stabilizing the structure.

Now that the city approved a permit, cranes and crews have moved into Fox.

RPS Risk Management Coordinator, Michael Bourne, said the first step in making sure the structure is safe was to remove the cupola which fell from the roof to the second floor during the fire.

"We don't know the weight of it, so we didn't want anything to happen," Bourne said. "And it could've collapsed."

A crowd of onlookers cheered Wednesday morning as a crane lowered the cupola to the ground.

Crews clear way for Fox fire investigation to continue: 'It could've collapsed'

"There's one crane that has a man and a bucket where two men are inside of it to kind of coordinate and hook up the cupola and one crane to pull the cupola out. So it's very intense because it's very heavy," Bourne said. “I’m very happy it came out safe."

The removal of the cupola cleared the way for the Richmond Fire Department (RFD) and the insurance company, VAcorp, to complete their investigations.

"RFD and RPS recognize the importance of transparency and efficiency as the public continues to heal from the fire at Fox, and all agencies remain committed to sharing information in a timely manner," RPS spokesperson, Sarah Abubaker, said.

Bourne added partial asbestos testing results cleared one location that crews are currently working on but additional testing will be conducted as teams move to other parts of the building.

Meanwhile, Bennett said he wants to focus on transitioning his kids to Fox's new temporary home, Clark Springs Elementary.

“It’s going to be a big relief to get back to some normalcy," Bennett said. "To have the kids not only in a classroom setting but then also to have them with after-school programs so parents can get back to work too."

Bennett added parents will get to see the school for the first time Saturday during the annual Strawberry Street Festival which is happening at Clark Springs this year.

"It'll be very important to the kids and the parents," Bennett said.

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