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Flint, MI—The former Washington Community School caught fire in the early morning Oct. 7.
At noon, Flint fire officials said they were still working to put out the fire, but had contained it inside areas of the building built with brick.
Battalion Fire Chief Steve Cobb said the department received a call at 12:20 Thursday morning and crews arrived on scene shortly after. Currently, there are no known or casualties or injuries.
“For the most part, the roof is gone. The floors have collapsed. But there are some hot spots still in the corners of the building that we can’t reach from outside,” Cobb said.
Officials do not yet know what caused the fire, but the Flint Police Department are working with the Michigan State Police to investigate, Cobb said.
Flint Police Chief Terence Green did not respond to request for comment by press time.
“We are grateful for the fast response and support of the Flint Fire Department. We will be working with the city to determine next steps at the site once the fire is fully extinguished. We would also ask anyone with information regarding this incident to please contact the fire department or Flint Police,” Interim Superintendent Kevelin Jones said.
Flint Community Schools closed the building in 2014 to address the district’s then $11 million budget deficit. It has been sitting abandoned since.
Cobb said the building’s dilapidated state makes it unsafe for firefighters to enter.
“The building’s not safe. It’s structurally unsound, so we can’t send firefighters in there and we have a lot of hot spots burning. So, at this time right now we are trying to arrange an excavator to come over there and knock down some walls for us to make it more safe,” Cobb said.
After the walls are knocked down, it may be difficult to determine the fire’s origins, Cobb said.
“We’re really going to destroy a lot of evidence by knocking things down and everything. For the most part, it’s going to be a write-off, I think,” he said.
Washington Community School was built in 1921, marking this year as its hundredth anniversary.
Residents who live nearby said they were sad to see it burn.
“I just wish it wouldn’t have happened, to be really honest. I didn’t go to school here, but it was something that was nice to see in a neighborhood,” said Wallace Taylor, who has lived in the area for six years.
This is not the first time Washington Community has caught fire since it was abandoned. In 2018, Flint fire authorities ruled a case of arson after someone lit bags of garbage on fire and threw them on the roof of the school.
“We’ve been here many, many, many times,” Cobb said. “People have been coming into here and setting little fires for years.”
Flint resident Shawn Guenther said he’s tired of seeing abandoned schools.
“I grew up right over here, and this is what I see? Another school up in flames? They need to do something about it,” Guenther said.
Over half of Flint schools have closed over the past decade due to declining student enrollment. Fewer students mean less state funding and the district has been unable to keep up with its finances. As it stands, the district faces an $18 million deficit.
In August, the Flint Community Schools Board of Education voted to sell some of its 22 vacant properties as part of a deficit elimination plan. Nine properties were listed on the district’s website by September. Washington Community is not among them.
Cobb said the fire department has been in close communication with the district.
“They realize that they’ve got a big cleanup project ahead of them. At this point, we’re just trying to extinguish it today, and then it will be up to the school board to get the site cleaned up,” Cobb said.