TAMPA — It's been a rough week for the bricks of Ybor City.
As the man who demolished the 1913 Gary School liquidated its bricks for 55 cents each at one end of the neighborhood, city workers poured asphalt over Fourth Avenue, further burying its original red brick layer.
The road was paved over years ago, but big brick patches remained, exposed from underneath.
Not so anymore. Now, they're visible only in the few inches that hug the curb like a gutter — and the bits loosened during road work, scattered on the new dark asphalt.
Resident Fran Costantino picked up the pieces, one by one. With them, she filled a cigar box. She took that box with her to a Wednesday afternoon meeting with Mayor Pam Iorio.
"This is what I'm going to leave my grandchildren," Costantino said.
The Fourth Avenue bricks could be unearthed, but it would cost a million dollars — money the city lacks.
"We are not going to spend a third of our repaving money," Iorio said, "on just one street."
The city's list of streets that need work this year is 50 pages long. But Fourth Avenue's situation was dire.
For years, the residents of Ybor City had complained about potholes on the 1.4-mile stretch that hadn't been repaved since 1983. The asphalt layer over the bricks was deteriorating.
"In another year," said public works director Irvin Lee, "it would have been gravel."
Had the bricks been the top layer, the city would have required them to be restored. But because the bricks had already been paved over, city ordinance allowed for more asphalt to be poured. Repaving cost a third of what restoration would have cost.
A machine with big, metal teeth scooped up and ground the old asphalt to make way for the new, which was poured Monday. The bricks were left in place, Lee said. But some were nicked by the machine, producing the chips Costantino found.
He said asphalt actually protects the bricks. But they'll remain hidden unless someone comes up with the money to unearth them.
Iorio spoke bluntly: The government doesn't have the money for this kind of preservation.
New Orleans? Charlotte? Savannah? They're all supported by private foundations.
Council woman Mary Mulhern talked to the mayor over the weekend when she heard about the planned repaving.
Mulhern offered ideas for other forms of funding.
The mayor said she'd support a non-profit organization and wondered whether the residents of Ybor would be interested in paying a special tax assessment, maybe $50 a year, just for the restoration of brick roads.
Mulhern said a city ordinance could also be tweaked to beef up oversight.
Iorio said she will continue talks with community leaders to stimulate private interest in preservation.
Meanwhile, new crosswalks are being installed across the historic district.
And the bricks, Lee said, are all salvaged from old Ybor roads.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.