Jeff Heuchert, Stratford Gazette
Police estimate as much as $12,000 damage was done to the playground at Bedford Public school Friday morning after one or more individuals set fire to the structure.
A 911 call from a resident near the school was received by the Stratford Fire Department around 6:15 a.m. this morning. Fire crews arrived to find a section of the structure engulfed in flames.
How the fire was started is still under investigation, but deputy fire chief Michael Gornyiczki confirmed the incident is being treated as arson.
It took fire crews about five minutes to extinguish the blaze, which completely destroyed the playground’s slide and an adjoining platform area, melting the equipment right down to the structure’s metal frame. There was also considerable damage to the padded flooring of the playground.
All three of the city’s pumpers responded to the call since it wasn’t clear at that point how severe the fire was or whether the actual school building was at risk.
Gornyiczki said it is unfortunate that residents in the north end of the city will likely be without a playground for the remainder of the summer. But he noted the larger concern is there are people in the community taking part in a dangerous and destructive criminal act.
“We have a concerns if there are young kids going around playing with matches and setting fires. We don’t want to see it go beyond a playset to a building or anything that jeopardizes property and lives.”
Police have no suspects at this time and are asking anyone who witnessed anything suspicious around the school between 5-6 a.m. Friday to contact the Stratford Police Service or Crimestoppers.
When contacted by the Gazette Friday afternoon, manger of communications for the Avon Maitland District School Board, Steve Howe, said staff from the board’s facilities department would be out to inspect the playground and be in contact with its playground supplier to determine the full extent of the damage.
“It’s going to have to be closed right off for the summer and we’ll figure out what has to be done,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have it up and safe again in time for the school year.”
The Bedford playground was installed only a few years ago after a successful fundraising campaign by the local school community.
Howe noted the playground is covered under the board’s insurance, however it’s not clear yet whether it will cover the full cost of cleaning up the site and any new pieces.
“It will depend on the full level of damage. It would be covered (under the insurance) to the extent that something could be (built), but it’s possible there could have to be a small amount of fundraising that would be needed.”
Bedford parent June Leitch was shocked to hear that vandals had targeted an area of the community that is a source of enjoyment for young kids. She said the first question to came to mind when she heard the news was why?
“Obviously somebody’s got too much time of their hands. It just makes you wonder why the school? It’s a shame.”
Leitch added that the playground would be sorely missed if it’s not opened by the time school begins, noting it is not only used by students but also by kids who use the before and after school program operated by the YMCA.
Ron Hamlin, of Nedlaw Roofing in Breslau, who is among a crew that has been working on the roof at the school for the past few days, said he arrived to work around 7:30 a.m. on Friday to find part of playground destroyed.
He also found a broken light on the outside of the school, graffiti on the asphalt and a discharged fire extinguisher that the workers had left out overnight. The culprits also somehow go onto the school’s roof, where they left more graffiti, he noted.
Hamlin said whoever was responsible for the damage was lucky they didn’t choose to play around with the machine workers use to heat up tar, known as a kettle.
“Thank God they didn’t touch that,” he added, “because they could have really hurt themselves.”