Foam insulation burns on the roof of a new building under construction at the Ringling College of Art & Design at U.S. 41 and Dr. Martin Luther King Way in Sarasota. Photo by Lee Williams

Fire breaks out on construction at Ringling

Ashes rained down on students and faculty Tuesday on the campus of Ringling College of Art & Design when a fire broke out on the roof of a four-story building under construction as part of the Richard and Barbara Basch Visual Arts Center.

The fire was contained to the rooftop and third floor of the skeletal metal and concrete building, where only a few walls and siding have been installed, and did not cause any damage to a just completed building nearby. No one was injured in the fire. And because the students are on spring break, the disruption on campus was limited.

But for school leaders and students, the sight of smoke on campus was unnerving.

“I was in the middle of a lunch meeting and all of a sudden my assistant comes in and says, ‘I need to see you,'” said Ringling College President Dr. Larry R. Thompson. “Sure enough, I walked out and saw the flames shooting. The first thing I thought was whether the building that had just finished construction, whether it had been damaged or it was on fire.

“Fortunately, it wasn’t. Seeing that at least alleviated as much as possible my concern.”

Just to the north of the four-story structure is a one-story building, a completed part of the arts complex that is scheduled for a ribbon-cutting and grand opening at 5:30 p.m. Friday. Thompson said the burning debris didn’t cause any significant damage to the completed building and will not affect the ceremony.

Heavy smoke billowed from the roof of the partially finished structure at 1188 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way at midday. Sarasota County Fire and Rescue arrived within six minutes of the call and extinguished the blaze within 30 minutes. The cause is under investigation.

Fire Chief Michael Regnier said the intense fire and smoke firefighters encountered was from flammable materials that had been placed on the roof Monday.

Regnier said the fire was upgraded to a third alarm because of the smoke generation and the windy conditions. “We wanted to take that into consideration,” Regnier said.

Film student Keishun Lloyd said he was across the street at the Student Center when he saw the fire on Facebook. He walked across the plaza to watch.

“When I came out there were ashes flying everywhere,” he said.

Ashley Biggs, who is studying visual arts, was coming to campus when she saw the flames. Her initial concern was that it was at the library.

“If it was the library, we have students working there all the time,” she said. “I was concerned for the construction workers.”

Construction on the building, which will be used for classrooms, woodworking and print making, started about a year ago, Thompson said.

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