TAMPA — In tears Monday afternoon, preservationist Fran Costantino held a camera to her face as a giant metal claw tore through the nameplate of the historic Gary school.
The city's director of growth management, Cynthia Miller, signed a demolition order Monday morning.
"It was difficult," Miller said.
Preservationists like Costantino had fought to have the building near Ybor City stabilized, but code enforcers said in August that the loose bricks and buckling walls were dangerous.
When he learned of the order, owner John Simon said, "Well, good. It'll be a lot safer."
Hours later, the demolition crews arrived. Their hard hats bore the name JVS Contracting, a company he owns.
Simon bought the building last year from the Hillsborough School Board with plans to restore it, and turn it into a sports facility.
In May he was cited for code violations, with orders to repair the roof, the masonry brick facade, exterior stairways, windows, doors and gutters.
On July 22, the roof collapsed.
Neighbors and City Council members had complained for years about Gary's condition.
The city is drafting an ordinance to stop "demolition by neglect," a process in which demolition becomes the easiest solution to dangers posed by buildings left to crumble.
Council member Linda Saul-Sena sees the Gary school as a classic example.
"I feel sick," she said Monday. "We just have to use this loss as a powerful force to make us quickly adopt better protections for these buildings."
Costantino said that if Simon cared, he would have preserved the facade. She left Monday while half the building still stood. She couldn't bear to see the rest fall.