Exclusive tour of charter school shut down by the state

FOX 26 got an exclusive tour of the charter school that was abruptly shut down this week by the state after the fire marshal deemed the building unsafe for students.

The kids at Rhodes School for Performing Arts Northshore campus have had a tough year since Hurricane Harvey hit. Their school on Tidwell was wiped out. Two portable buildings were relocated to Wallisville Road, but the chaos for the kids seems to continue.

“We ended the school year with more than 200 children with a homeless code on our roster,” explains Rhodes School Founder Michelle Bonton.

Life for the 450 kids who are supposed to fill the classrooms at Rhodes School Northshore still isn’t back to normal. One week into the new school year and this location was shut down by the Texas Education Agency.

“It is heartbreaking.  It is emotional. It is frustrating,” says Bonton who was an educator for more than 20 years in the Houston area before opening the Rhodes School 11 years ago.

The TEA closed the school at the fire marshal’s recommendation.  “Some of the things the fire marshal pointed out that we were able to fix very quickly were things like an exit light in this hallway.”

Fire extinguishers are also now stocked throughout.

“This here was also a concern for the fire marshal,” Bonton points out as she takes us to a back hallway.

Bonton and her staff were still moving in when the fire marshal’s office came out. So things like boxes of supplies that were stacked along the walls were also cited as violations.  

“There were things that were stored here and they (the fire marshal’s office) like a three foot pathway," Bonton says.

The Rhodes school moved after their campus was destroyed in Harvey.  “Not only was school out eight days, we had loss of life among staff members."

Bonton says she’s never had problems with her buildings being in code but admits she was still trying to get them in order after being hit so hard by Harvey.

“The big concern was the sprinkler system for this particular building.”  She initially thought the building could be grandfathered in without sprinklers.  As for a fire alarm system, one building already has it and another was just days from the system being installed as we could see from empty outlets already wired and in place.  Also, one wall in the middle of the largest portable building will become a fire wall and run the length and height of the building.

“They will put in fire retardant material and right here is where we would create the other hallway because there would be fire retardant doors,” which would keep flames from spreading throughout the building. 

Parents, meanwhile, are once again trying to comfort their kids in the midst of chaos.

”He was just a little confused this morning but he got on the bus ok,” says Debrick Bookman.

“You have to let them know this is the way it is now but it’s going to be ok.  You’ve got to keep them reassured,” adds Dawna Howard.

In a hearing yesterday, Bonton made sure state officials know the school has already submitted plans to the county to bring their buildings up to code. Once Rhodes receives approval, which we're told could take months, the work is expected to be complete in less than 30 days, but the work can’t begin until the county gives the school the go ahead to make the necessary changes to correct the violations.   

Students are being bussed to two other Rhodes School locations until their school reopens.