TORCHED: ‘Act Of Evil’ Destroys Kids’ Playground

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FUMING HIMSELF, Mayor Michael Nutter surveys remains of playground at FDR Park on Monday, destroyed by vandals in a deliberate fire, which police officials say occurred on Sunday night. There is a $11,000 bounty for information related to this arson. Photo by Rory McGlasson

BY RORY McGLASSON/ A kids’ play set at FDR Park will rise from the ashes, but that will not hide the disappointment of kids left devastated by an act of cowardice that destroyed their home away from home last weekend.

The smell of soot and ash still lingers in the air at the Lakes, with police still searching for vandals who set fire to a $306,000 playground on Sunday. Last week, the state-of-the-art kids facility in FDR Park — equipped with a modern jungle gym, slides,  swings and play set — was gleaming in the sun. Kids were playing on equipment unique to the site, as parents watched fondly.

Today, the playground reeks of burnt rubber and ashes, as fire and police officials dismember the carcass.

More than half of the play site was destroyed on Saturday night by vandals, police said. Police say someone set fire to the playground at FDR Park. More than half of the site was destroyed, according to investigators. In addition, two large shade trees were also damaged.  On Monday, Mayor Nutter joined police, fire and civic leaders to announce a $11,000 bounty for information in regards to what the Mayor called “evil” and “thoughtless” individuals. At press time, police had not found the individuals responsible.

“This was not just some random act of vandalism,” said Mayor Nutter. “This was an act of evil.” Mayor Nutter visited the site Tuesday before announcing plans to rebuild the playground. The facility, was completed in October 2011 using funds from the City’s capital budget and the FDR Park Trust.

Mayor Nutter said he had called the Philadelphia Eagles organization shortly after he had heard of the devastating blaze. Christina Lurie, co-owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, announced Tuesday that the Eagles organization will donate funds to assist with the rebuilding effort.  Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, 2nd District, also pledged $100,000 towards the reconstruction of the site.

Mark Focht, First Deputy Commissioner of Park and Facilities at Parks & Recreation, said the rebuild will cost an estimated $200,000.  Some of the equipment might be salvaged, he said, but most will have to be destroyed.

“Anyone who damages a playground hurts the children and hurts our entire community,” said Lurie. “FDR is part of our neighborhood, the neighborhood of the Eagles.  The Eagles will absolutely step up and ensure that this playground is fixed.” The Eagles recently completed a rebuild at Comegy’s Elementary School in Southwest Philadelphia, as part of its successful Youth Build Partnership.

Of the $11,000 reward fund, Mayor Nutter said the City will offer a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators responsible for the fire.  Parks advocates and neighborhood groups, lead by Kathryn Ott Lovell, executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, offered matching donations: The Fairmount Park Conservancy will contribute $2,500; the Friends of FDR Park will contribute $2,500; Barbara Capozzi, a member of the FDR Friends organization, will contribute $2,500; and the Packer Park Residents Association will donate $1,000.

“We were here last year when they were building it,” said Kate Edwards, a Wilmington, Del. resident who was visiting the park Monday with her two-year-old daughter, Grace Martin. “My daughter was looking forward to playing on the park; she was a little upset when she first saw the wreck this morning.”

Back in the 1970s, park rangers were assigned to patrol the parks of Philadelphia. Those policeman were part of the City’s police cavalry unit.  The rangers at FDR Park were on constant surveillance. However, this changed under former Mayor Frank Rizzo’s first mayoral tenure. Rizzo consolidated and eliminated the cavalry, which was stationed at 11th & Reed Streets, where the auto repair shop of the Police Dept. is now located.

Board members of the Friends of FDR Park said they hope this is an isolated incident. Gregory Jacovini. president of Friends of FDR Park, said his five-year-old son Mario was playing on the playground two weeks ago. “It’s just a hateful thing to do,” said Jacovini. “I can’t imagine what would make someone want to take something away from little kids.” He said, “The bounty could get you a new car –  so I’m sure someone will come forward and give police some information, and it will not be long until we find the people that did this.

“Let’s be honest: Any idiot that pulls a prank like this, is probably stupid enough to go brag about it to their friends.”

Barbara Capozzi, a board member of Friends of FDR Park, said she visits the park each day to clean litter and debris.  “The park playground will be even better when it’s rebuilt,” Capozzi said. “We will catch the people that did this, but it should not deter people from coming to FDR Park and enjoying what we have going on here.” She added, “It’s heart breaking for our kids, but the playground will rise from the ashes, and be even better than before.”

If anyone has any information related to the playground fire, please contact the Philadelphia Police Dept.

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