City brings fun to fire-damaged Discovery Community Park

  • Mike Lhotsky, right, director of Laurel Parks and Recreation, holds an image of the new proposed playground complex for fire-damaged Discovery Community Park, as City Council president Fred Smalls, center, talks about the project during Community Fun Day March 28. At left are Laurel City Council members Donna Crary, Mike Leszcz, Ed Ricks and Valerie Nicholas.
Mike Lhotsky, right, director of Laurel Parks and Recreation,… (Staff photo by Brian Krista,…)
March 29, 2013|By Dan Singer

Laurel residents gathered at Discovery Community Park Thursday evening for Community Fun Day, an event organized by city officials following the recent fires at the park and two other local playgrounds.

The park, located at the intersection of Greenhill Drive and Harrison Street, suffered $150,000 in damages due to a March 3 fire that authorities are investigating as an act of arson.

With the damaged equipment removed and the playground area covered in black tarp and fenced off, the event stressed togetherness in the community and celebrated the city's plan to rebuild all three parks.

The rebuilding process at all three damaged playgrounds is likely to be finished by early May, Laurel Parks and Recreation Director Mike Lhotsky said.

A number of children traversed the section of the playground that is still intact and undamaged, while others threw footballs and lifted a giant rainbow parachute. Some sketched designs for the renovated parks on posters that will be displayed at the Laurel Municipal Center.

"I'm very happy about how fast they're moving on this," said Lonnie Woodward, who lives near Discovery Community Park. "It gives us a place to get the kids out."

Woodward, who has four young children, said he was "devastated" when he heard about the fire. He was headed out to pick up groceries when Laurel Police were blocking off neighborhood roads. When he saw caution tape, he initially thought someone was hurt.

"I was almost to tears," Woodward said of learning about the fire.

Sixth-grader Hailey Norbeck remembered being surprised by the fire. .

"We saw the smoke and were like, 'Really? Who would do this?' " Norbeck said. "It's really amazing that they're gonna be able to rebuild it."

Joe Lohman, commander of Sons of American Legion at Laurel's Post 60, brought his son to the event and said he thought it was a great way to draw positivity from the "upsetting" incidents.

"It was very discouraging, but we're fighting back," Lohman said. "This is an important park to us."

Mayor Craig Moe, who attended along with other City Council members, said his plan to renovate the parks as fast as possible was supported "100 percent" by his fellow city officials.

"We're trying to move quickly," Moe said. "We don't want to wait."

"All the departments worked together to get the word out and encourage people to use the parks," said Bonny DuCote, a Laurel Parks and Recreation program specialist.

"The community's happy and we're happy," she said. "They're very supportive of us."

Laurel Police Department Pfc. Juan Diaz-Chavarria called the event a "beautiful thing."

"I haven't seen this type of response in any other community but Laurel," he said. "Everyone has a great relationship with each other."

Moe said city officials are rescheduling another Community Fun Day at Emancipation Community Park, located on Eighth Street, after it was postponed March 26 because of inclement weather.

The fire at Emancipation Community Park March 11 came days after the Discovery Community Park incident and a second fire at Granville Gude Park, near Laurel Lakes, on March 8.

Two juveniles were arrested by Laurel Police in connection with the Granville Gude Park fire and charged with arson by county fire investigators.

Laurel spokesman Pete Piringer said investigations into the three fires are "going along nicely."

"We have a lot of resources from the police and P.G. Fire investigators," Piringer said. "They've gotten some leads and are pursuing some, and they're encouraged by that."

Piringer said city officials are aggressively spreading the word about the reward, of up to $5,000, they are offering in exchange for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the responsible individuals.

"We're looking forward to letting the community know we're still engaged," he said.

To anonymously leave a tip about the incidents, contact the Laurel Police Department's tip line at 301-498-7645 or the Prince George's County fire tip line at 301-77-ARSON.

Dan Singer is a journalism student at the University of Maryland.

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