Historic Robert E. Lee school in Tampa destroyed by fire

Robert E. Lee Elementary fire

TAMPA, Fla. - A Tampa Heights magnet elementary school at the center of community controversy because it bears the name of Confederate General Robert E. Lee caught fire Tuesday evening. 

Firefighters were notified just after 7 p.m. Tuesday and the blaze quickly escalated into a three-alarm fire, Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Jason Penny said.

Tampa Fire Rescue responded to the three-story brick building located at 305 E. Columbus Ave at 6:45 p.m. and saw heavy smoke and flames coming from the northwest portion of the roof. Crews began attacking the fire and the incident commander called for a second and ultimately a third alarm to bring more equipment and personnel to the scene.

At one point the roof began to show signs of collapse so the incident commander decided to pull firefighters from inside the building and began fighting the fire defensively from the outside.

By 2:45 Wednesday morning the fire was under control. The fire is still under investigation. There are no indications at this time of any foul play and the fire does not appear suspicious.

Photos: Massive fire burns at Robert E. Lee Elementary

The school was not being used as a shelter for Hurricane Irma evacuees, but nearly 329 students and 49 staff members will be displaced. 

Beginning Monday, Lee students and staff will share the Lockhart Elementary School campus at 3719 N. 17th St., which is 1.4 miles away from Lee.

The district is also coordinating with other schools, asking school staffs from across the district, to help set up the new classroom space at Lockhart Elementary on Friday. 

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.

There were renewed calls from the community earlier this summer to rename the school. 

Hillsborough school board member Tamara Shamburger supported the effort, saying the name does not reflect the diversity of the community and is representative of a hurtful chapter of American history. 

The school is more than 100 years old and was previously named the Michigan Avenue Grammar School. 

The cause of the fire is unclear. 

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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