TAMPA (FOX 13) - It’s been six months and 24 days since fire ravaged Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Tampa Heights. Nearly an entire school year later, the school sits empty, wrecked from water damage and inhabited by vagrants.
Thursday morning, parents took to the podium at a city council meeting to ask officials if their children’s school will ever be rebuilt, and why the communication has been so poor.
“I go in and out of meetings and I listen to parents, and it’s very difficult to keep my cool and be level-headed and remind parents everything is going to be OK," one mother said tearfully. "But I have great doubt.”
The Hillsborough County School District’s chief operating officer, Chris Farkas, says progress has been made behind the scenes, and it’s still waiting to hear from its insurance adjuster.
“We expect that report in the next two to three days and then we will meet with the insurance company and present our case as to why we think that claim should be higher," Farkas said.
Parents say the fire left a gaping hole not only in the facility’s roof, but also in their children’s educational process, as over 300 students and 49 employees have been displaced.
Taryn Sabia has two children enrolled at Lee Elementary School -- one in Kindergarten and the other in second grade.
“They’ve been moved to another building in the middle of the school year," Sabia said. "That’s a difficult transition for them to be able to adjust and be able to get used to. Some are sharing classrooms.”
Parents say they want the school district to commit to a rebuild, and create a platform for community involvement. Farkas says he’s hoping to get the ball rolling within the next week.
“Literally we’ve been waiting for this point, for their report to be in, and our report to be in," Farkas continued. "That has happened in the last two weeks so we’re definitely toward the end of the period of ‘not a lot of action’ happening.”
Sabia says she’s lost confidence in the district over the months because of the lack of communication.
"I had higher confidence when I first met with them last fall," she said. "I'm hoping that they see this is an issue we're dedicated to, and they pay more attention to now."
Other parents say several meetings they’ve scheduled with district leaders have been cancelled at the last minute, and others have been scheduled at times when working parents could not attend.