Claremont residents and city officials gathered in Claremont Elementary School's parking lot while other residents watched from front porches and front yards as the old Claremont gym was demolished Wednesday morning.
"I hate to see the gym come down, but it looks like it should've come down long ago," said Betty Hewitt Cloninger, of Claremont.
Cloninger was a student at the school from first through 12th grade. In addition, she played basketball in the old gym as a forward on the girl's team from eighth through 12th grade.
Joining Cloninger as she watched the demolition was her daughter, Cindy Fulcher, of Claremont, and Fulcher's three grandchildren.
"It's sad," Fulcher said. "It's like history coming down. I wish we could redo old buildings instead of tearing them down."
During a June 28 meeting, Catawba County Schools Director of Operations Steve Demiter presented to the Board of Education details on repairs needed to keep the gym up to code. The total cost was $338,000 to renovate the gym for operation. The board voted to not repair the gym. However, before demolishing the gym, the school board asked Demiter to offer the building to Claremont.
Demiter spoke to Claremont City Manager Tom Hogg prior to City Council's July 12 meeting about the school board's decision to demolish the gym. At council's July meeting, they decided to not accept CCS' offer to keep the gym.
"To bring the building up to code was going to cost $300,000," Hogg said. "That money could be used for a lot of projects, such as a community center. It's too bad we can't keep a building like that. It's a piece of the past."
Memories are all the residents have to hold on to now that the gym is demolished.
Audrey Gantt, Claremont Elementary secretary, stood outside with her digital camera Wednesday, taking pictures and video taping the demolition.
"There are a lot of memories in that gym," said Gantt, who was a physical education assistant in the gym for 14 years. "A lot of memories and kids went through there."
Pauline Yount Cloninger, 91, attended Claremont School for 11 years and taught second grade there for 31 years. One thing she remembers about the school is walking to the school as child because she lived a block away. Then as an adult, she walked to work since she lived across the street in her marital home.
"We have to give way to new things," she said. "It cost too much to get it fixed up."
Claremont resident Henry Helton said he remembers the city's first Claremont Day being held at the gym about 15 years ago.
While some residents looked at the building and remembered its past, other residents watched in spite because they did not have a chance to take one last look inside before the demolition crew started taking the building apart.
"It's sick," said a Claremont resident, who did not wish to be identified. "That is a building that the people built. They treat old buildings like old people. When you get old, they tear you down."
At Claremont City Council's July 12 meeting, Mayor David Morrow said, "Perhaps we'll be able to offer a day where people can walk through the building or offer a pile of bricks for people to take as a doorstop."
Bricks might be all residents get.
Carleen Crawford, CCS public information officer, said Claremont was given a timeline for the demolition, which was actually scheduled for Monday, and never mentioned having a day for citizens to walk through.
"There was no formal request (from a resident)," Hogg said, adding Claremont "didn't own the building" to make plans for a viewing.
Morrow and Hogg said Wednesday they plan to get the city's Public Works department to take a trailer to the site, fill it with bricks and move the trailer to city hall for residents to take a brick from the old gym.
"No one personally came to me from the community and requested to walk through (the gym)," Morrow said. "I don't think there was really any interest (in viewing the gym before it was demolished)."
Before the building was demolished, the city requested the school remove the basketball goals and scoreboard to be used at other locations within the city.
"I hate to see an historical building come down," said Claremont councilman PJ Stanley, who was watching the demolition alongside Claremont Police Chief Gerald Tolbert.
Claremont Elementary School principal Chris Gibbs said if it wasn't for a safety issue, the gym could still be standing.
"It has a lot of sentimental value in the community, and it's always sad to see part of your history destroyed," Gibbs said. "It's not easy standing here and watching it go down."
The old Claremont gym was the final portion of the old school. Now all that remains is a large oak tree and memories in the minds of generations of Claremont families.