After fire, future of Lee Elementary School uncertain

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Dozens of parents peppered Hillsborough County school district leaders Thursday with questions about the future of Lee Elementary School, which suffered a devastating fire four months ago.

The town hall-style meeting allowed a passionate group of parents the opportunity to vent their frustrations, which was largely with, what they considered, a lack of communication regarding whether the historic school will be restored or rebuilt.

"I want to see the school restored to where it was before. I pass the school every day coming here and I see a big hole in the middle of the roof and it kind of worries me," said Bonita Fuller, whose three children have been students at Lee.

In September, a fire sparked by damage from Hurricane Irma gutted part of the elementary school. All 320 students and 47 faculty members were forced to move to Lockhart Elementary School for the remainder of the school year.

Parents said the damage to the school and stress it caused them and their kids continues to be an issue.

"It's been very traumatic," said Rebecca Schmitt. "It's a big cultural change between different schools and it really affects the kids and they're still having issues."

Parents told the district's Chief Operations Officer, Chris Farkas, they would like to get regular updates on the progress at Lee.

Farkas, however, said there has not been much to report because the district is at the mercy of the insurance company, which is still conducting its damage assessment and might not be finished for another two months.

"There's not anything we're hiding, there's no plans that are going on behind the scenes. We literally are waiting for some information from the insurance company because we need that information to make an informed decision," Farkas said, adding the process could take longer because the school is historic. "I know that four months seems like a short amount of time for the insurance companies, but the parents that are sending their kids to a different school every day, it's a long period of time."

Farkas indicated he hopes the district is able to rebuild or restore Lee Elementary, but he's not able to commit to anything at this point.

The plan, for now, is to have everyone from Lee Elementary go to Lockhart for the next school year. Beyond that, the plan is up in the air.