ST. PETERSBURG — It was a regular destination for Isaac Garner's children, the small playground across the street with slides, climbers, overhead hand rings and an activity panel at the scenic lakefront park.
But when Garner woke up Saturday morning, the recreation area for 5- to 12-year-olds in his Meadowlawn neighborhood had been destroyed by fire. A nearby swing set was the only thing that remained untouched.
Police suspect the fire, discovered about 2 a.m. Saturday, was caused by arson, spokesman Michael Puetz said. Juveniles were seen running away, he said. No arrests have been made.
"I was pretty furious,'' Garner said.
"It's a disgusting thing to do and there's no reason for it. It's a playground for small children. Who would do a thing like this? Why?"
Monday morning St. Petersburg Parks and Recreation Department employees, using heavy equipment, removed chunks of rubberized protective matting and a few smoke-covered poles, the last of the destroyed playground. A sign on a recently erected security fence read, "Construction area. Keep out."
The word "soon" was covered in the sentence, "Playground will open …"
It will cost about $80,000 to replace the play area, said Parks and Recreation director Sherry McBee.
Marlene Murray, president of the Meadowlawn Neighborhood Association, is upset about the vandalism at the popular park featured on the neighborhood association's website.
"It was very sad to see,'' she said.
She hopes City Council member Jim Kennedy, who represents the area, can help. The city has budget woes, she acknowledged, "but we're hoping that Mr. Kennedy can get the playground replaced for us."
The park was refurbished a little over a year ago.
"We were very excited getting new equipment, handicapped accessible, and new flooring,'' she said. "You couldn't go by that park without seeing children playing, people sitting, walking.''
McBee said the small playground on Viking Lake, at 14th Street between 73rd Avenue N and 75th Avenue N, was originally installed in 1997 for about $16,000. Last year's improvements included the new safety surfacing and a chain-link fence.
Playgrounds are replaced according to age, McBee said. "Budgets are tight and this is not a budgeted expense,'' she said.