TAMPA — East Ybor residents spent years begging the City Council to do something about the historic Gary school building, which had fallen into extreme disrepair even after a private developer purchased it.
At a City Council meeting last week, several residents criticized the developer and city officials for not doing enough to preserve the 95-year-old red brick building.
Days later, their fears came true. Part of the school's roof collapsed, damaging a portion of its top floor and possibly compromising the entire structure. No one was injured.
The damage was discovered Tuesday, prompting the neighborhood civic association president to e-mail an angry letter and photos of the crumbling building to city officials, neighbors and local media.
"We've been counting the days until something like this was going to happen," said Fran Costantino, the East Ybor Historic and Civic Association president. "It just freaking makes me sick. This was all preventable."
Built in 1913, the building was an elementary school in the once-rural Gary community until it became an adult school in 1980. Hillsborough school officials decided to sell the dilapidated and water-damaged building in 2005, and the city designated it a historic landmark.
Last year, John Simon of JVS Contracting bought the property for $331,000 with plans to turn it into a sports facility for private schools. He was trying to get the building rezoned, but the City Council postponed the vote last week to allow him to resolve parking and other issues.
City Council member Linda Saul-Sena called the collapsing roof "demolition by neglect."
"The two entities responsible have been the School Board and the current owner, and I fault both for not maintaining this historic building," she said. "The city needs to be more responsible in terms of protecting its historic resources."
Simon, the current owner, said he doesn't know what will become of the building.
"We're inspecting it now to see if there's a way we can salvage it," he said. "It's hard to invest any more money in it if the project's not approved (by City Council)."
Emily Nipps can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.