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Richmond School leaders 'concerned' and 'amazed' over Fox fire investigation delays

Posted at 5:51 PM, Apr 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-12 19:10:45-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- More than two months after a catastrophic fire ripped through William Fox Elementary in Richmond, the Richmond Fire Department still has not released findings into what caused the historic school to go up in flames.

Now, the CBS 6 Problem Solvers have confirmed a setback in the Richmond Fire Department's investigation.

A spokesperson for the agency said "structural issues" have prevented investigative teams from safely going inside the building.

That has delayed the fire department from completing its investigation.

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Aerial photos show the devastation a fire caused at Fox Elementary School in Richmond, Va.

"The Fox community deserves answers," Richmond School Board 4th District Representative Jonathan Young said. "I think persons, at this point, are rightly upset."

Young emphasized the safety of investigators must remain a top priority, but he expressed confusion over the timing of the fire department's latest update.

"My understanding is that most of the investigation is complete," Young said. "In fact, to be blunt, I was advised that a couple of weeks ago, everything was complete, absent collating the data, putting it all together, and writing the report."

The delay also came as a surprise to 2nd District School Board Member Mariah White. White represents the Fan District where Fox is located.

"I'm amazed to find out that both inspections had not been completed, and they will not be completed until the building is stabilized," White said.

Only recently did Young learn that fire and insurance investigators now want access to parts of the school that they haven't been able to scale yet.

Fire officials said in order to move forward with the investigation, Fox must be stabilized which would involve installing platforms and foundations to make sure it doesn't collapse.

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Fox Elementary School in Richmond was damaged by fire.

This is a change from what Richmond Public Schools (RPS) initially planned for. Richmond Schools originally said it was waiting for the fire department to release control of the building and finish its investigation before stabilization can happen.

White said she was upset by what she called a lack of transparency and communication from the school district. She said the stabilization update was not discussed during a school board meeting Monday night.

"I wasn't given that information," White said.

In a presentation to the school board, Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras wrote that RPS submitted paperwork to the City of Richmond to obtain permits for stabilization.

RPS originally said it planned to submit the paperwork by March 31.

Young and White expressed concern about the amount of time in which it could take the city's permit office to review the paperwork and give the green light to start the stabilization process.

"It's an office that isn't well known for moving with urgency," Young said. "I would sincerely hope that the city permit office along with the city administration would recognize that stabilization of Fox has to take priority."

"I'm at this current moment trying to find out where the building permits are and how soon those building permits will be given back to RPS so that we can get this building stabilized," White said.

A CBS 6 Problem Solvers email sent to city officials regarding a timeline for approving the permit paperwork Tuesday afternoon has not received a response.

A spokesperson for the Richmond Fire Department (RFD) said it was routine for fire investigations to take longer than initially estimated. RFD did not respond to a Problem Solvers request for an interview or an email with follow-up questions.

"We are working on permits from the city to start stabilization. Then they can access the parts they need to see safely," an RPS spokesperson told the CBS 6 Problem Solvers on Tuesday.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.