Replacing vandalized equipment at elementary won't be child's play

Timonium playground was damaged by fire

April 11, 2002|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

The $64,000 playground behind Timonium Elementary - with its funky green triple slide, suspension bridge and faux rock climbing wall - stood as a testament to the largest fund-raising project in the history of the school.

Parents held a spaghetti dinner and silent auction, printed up fliers and went door to door over six months during the 2000-2001 school year and gathered more than $25,000 to enhance the much smaller playground the Baltimore County school system had agreed to install last summer.

But pupils returned from spring break this week to see a large chunk of their prized play area destroyed. Someone set fire to the giant slide, melting it away and charring several other sections of the playground. Damage is estimated from $8,000 to $10,000, maybe more, said Principal John Desmone.

"I felt very sad because those are my favorite slides," said first-grader Emily Golden, who was playing on the remaining pieces yesterday afternoon. "If I saw the people who did it, I'd say `That was not good, don't do it again and I'm telling the principal.'"

Timonium Elementary's old playground was an ancient set of wooden and rusted-metal contraptions, some likely the original pieces dating to the school's opening in the 1950s. When school system officials announced Timonium would receive a new playground, parents decided to raise the money to get an even bigger one - with extra slides and monkey bars and rocking toys and oversized game panels. They worried it might be a tough sell in a community that had resisted fund raising in the past, said Kelly Menzel, chairwoman of the playground committee.

"Our parents feel like they're being nickeled and dimed all year long - from class pictures to wrapping paper," she said. "They feel like we're constantly asking for money. ... We were reluctant to even ask, knowing what the track record was."

But, this time, "people came out of the woodwork," she said.

Now they may have to start asking again.

The standard insurance that covers all damage to school system property has a $5,000 deductible - money the school doesn't have, Desmone said. And with the list of other schools in need of new playgrounds quite long, the school system doesn't have it either, said spokesman Charles A. Herndon.

"It would be very difficult to take the money from one playground project that is already allocated to devote to another playground project," he said. "It's essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul."

There's a genuine worry about vandalism - fires had been set in the past in a new therapeutic sandbox, graffiti had been drawn on the nearby basketball court - and parents are talking about whether there will be a need to put up security lights and cameras to safeguard any new purchase, an added expense.

The Baltimore County Fire Department was called to the scene of the fire at 4:45 a.m. March 29. No suspects have been arrested but the department is investigating, said Capt. Glenn Blackwell.

Much of the melted slide has been removed and yellow police tape is wrapped around the charred section. The rest of the equipment has been deemed safe enough to continue to use.

"It's a shame something like that has to happen when so much time and energy was out into it," said Debbie Brown, whose son Connor is a fourth-grader at Timonium.

"It's more than just a playground up there," Menzel said. "It's our baby."

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