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Early morning fire damages G.W. Carver Middle School

Early morning fire damages G.W. Carver Middle School

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Fire gutted much of G.W. Carver Middle School early Tuesday morning, which will force its students to attend classes at Indian Spring Middle School when the new school year starts Aug. 23.

The Waco Fire Department responded at 1 a.m. Tuesday, and flames cut through a large swath of the facility before the blaze could be extinguished.

Firefighters encountered heavy smoke and fire in the administration office at the front entrance to the building, Waco Fire Lt. Keith Guillory said. The full response included 23 fire units and 68 personnel, according to an update from the city of Waco on Thursday.

“A big part of this fire was defensive,” Guillory said. “We had to make sure this fire didn’t spread to other parts of the structure.”

The Waco Fire Marshal's Office is investigating the origin of the fire with assistance from Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives Certified Fire Investigators, according to the update Thursday from the city.

No one was injured.

Guillory said the building, constructed in 1956, did not have a sprinkler system to help put out the fire but it was equipped with a fire alarm system.

Guillory also is a Waco Independent School District trustee, elected to an at-large seat in May. He and the rest of the board already were expected to vote Aug. 12 on a proposal to call a $376 million bond election in November that would include money to replace G.W. Carver Middle School. The proposed new facility at the same campus, estimated to cost between $70 million and $80 million, would be large enough to accommodate Indian Spring Middle School students. Indian Spring would close when the new Carver facility is ready.

The Aug. 12 vote on the bond proposal is expected to go forward. School officials said their insurance company is expected to assign a dollar value to the fire damage later in the week.

“Replacing Carver Middle School was certainly a priority before the fire,” district Chief of Staff Kyle DeBeer said. “We don’t expect that we will be able to build a new, modern and larger campus with just insurance money. It’s going to take some form of bond funding.”

In the meantime, Carver and Indian Spring students will be under one roof sooner than planned. Carver students and staff will move to Indian Spring, about a 2-mile drive away, until a new Carver is ready, according to a district press release Tuesday afternoon.

Both schools, serving students in sixth through eighth grades, are part of Transformation Waco, an in-district charter formed in 2018 to prevent state intervention at five Waco ISD schools and to bring additional resources to the schools. Waco ISD’s other two middle schools, Tennyson Middle School and Cesar Chavez Middle School, have about twice as many students as Carver and Indian Spring.

The immediate priority in the fire’s aftermath is ensuring G.W. Carver students and employees are well taken care of, said Karen Hassell, Transformation Waco’s executive director of school leadership.

“School is going to start on Aug. 23 and we will be ready,” Hassell said. “We are hustling to make sure that students and teachers have what they need and make sure they are good to go.”

Indian Spring has room for students from both schools, Principal Joseph Alexander said in Tuesday’s press release.

“While we share the sadness that comes with the loss of a historic school building, we want our neighbors to know that they are welcome here,” Alexander said in the press release.

Indian spring has space for more than 900 students. Its projected enrollment for the upcoming school year is 500 students, and Carver’s projected enrollment is 460 students, according to the press release.

“G.W. Carver Middle School is more than a building,” Principal Isaac Carrier said in the press release. “It’s the people, and it’s the legacy that they carry with them each day. We will heal and thrive together. This coming school year will be different than we expected, but it can and will still be a great year.”

Details of the arrangements are still being worked out, but students will have what they need in the weeks leading up to the start of classes and during the school year, Transformation Waco CEO Robin McDurham said.

“They’ll have safe transportation to and from the school, and nutritious and delicious school meals will be waiting for them,” McDurham said.

Transformation Waco has set up counseling that will be available from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday in the Community Room at Estella Maxey Place, 1809 J.J. Flewellen Road. Walk-ins are welcome.

Upcoming school registration events for G.W. Carver have been moved. They will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Carver Park Baptist Church, 1020 Herring Ave. Registration is also available at wacoisd.org/register.

Many residents have called in asking how they can support the school, McDurham said. Anyone wishing to donate can provide gift cards from Walmart, Target or H-E-B, which Transformation Waco will use to buy school supplies and replace items lost during the fire, she said. Gift cards can be mailed to 3005 Edna Ave., Waco TX, 76708. Electronic gift cards emailed to transformationwaco@wacoisd.org.

Hassell said Carver families can check the school’s website and social media accounts for updates.

“During the pandemic, I’ve seen our district come together and support one another in extraordinary ways,” Superintendent Susan Kincannon said in the press release. “I have no doubt that we can overcome any challenges created by this fire and keep doing what it takes to take care of our students and employees.”

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Reporter

Hailing from the Chicagoland area, Amaris E. Rodriguez is a 2019 graduate of Northeastern Illinois University and formerly worked the Journal & Topics news organization in Des Plains, Illinois.

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