Feb 16, 2021 - News
Inside the rebuilt Tampa Heights Elementary
A photograph of the north-facing brick facade of Tampa Heights Elementary School in Tampa, Florida.
Photo: Octavio Jones for Axios

Axios Tampa Bay has a look inside the newly rebuilt Tampa Heights Elementary School, one of the oldest and most historic buildings in Tampa.

What happened: The century-old building was gutted by an electrical fire on Sept. 12, 2017, shortly after Hurricane Irma passed through Tampa Bay. Inspectors determined that the fire was not suspicious and started when electricity was restored to the neighborhood after the storm.

A photo of flames coming out the top of the Robert E. Lee Elementary in Tampa, Florida.
An electrical fire gutted the school in 2017. Photo: Ben Montgomery

Why it matters: The magnet school at 305 E Columbus Ave., in the heart of the historic Tampa Heights neighborhood, welcomed back more than 300 students last month.

  • Parents, teachers and alumni urged the district to salvage the historic structure rather than destroying it and building an all-new school on the site.
  • The school district, architects and construction company came up with a design that integrated the school’s historic facade with elements of a modern school inside.
A newspaper clipping from the Tampa Tribune describing the planned construction of the Michigan Avenue Grammar School in 1905.
Tampa Tribune, June 1, 1905

Flashback: Originally called the Michigan Avenue Grammar School, the school was renamed for Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee in 1943, an era when Southern cities and towns frequently honored Confederate leaders in their buildings and monuments.

  • The rebuild gave the district a convenient opportunity to shed the controversial name.
A photo of the grassy courtyard in the rear of the newly rebuilt Tampa Heights Elementary School.
The new courtyard in the rear of the Tampa Heights Elementary School. Photo: Octavio Jones for Axios

The school district negotiated full payment from the district’s insurance companies for the rebuild, using the preserved historic exterior of the school. Hillsborough County Public Schools bore none of the rebuilding costs.

  • Designers salvaged some of the original wood flooring and incorporated it into a wall panel.

By the numbers:

  • Total square footage: 51,941
  • Student stations: 398
  • Floors: 3
  • Estimated cost: $16 million
A photograph of the interior of the newly renovated Tampa Heights Elementary School.
Photo: Octavio Jones for Axios
A photograph of a classroom inside the newly renovated Tampa Heights Elementary School, with desks and brightly colored chairs.
Photo: Octavio Jones for Axios
A photograph of the east-facing brick facade of the newly rebuilt Tampa Heights Elementary School.
Photo: Octavio Jones for Axios
Students eat inside the newly renovated cafeteria at the Tampa Heights Elementary School on Columbus Avenue in Tampa.
Photo: Octavio Jones for Axios
A photograph of the office area at the newly rebuilt Tampa Heights Elementary.
Photo: Octavio Jones for Axios
A photograph of a computer lab inside the newly rebuilt Tampa Heights Elementary.
Photo: Octavio Jones for Axios
A view from the rear of the newly rebuilt Tampa Heights Elementary.
Photo: Octavio Jones for Axios

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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