SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A popular children's playground structure at Armstrong Park in Santa Maria was destroyed by a fire early Monday morning, causing an estimated $200,000 in damage.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. Santa Maria firefighters were called out to the scene at 12:58 a.m. however, there were no witnesses that may have explained how the fire began, but arson is not ruled out.
“It is unfortunate this happened. We’ve seen this happen in other communities, too, but this level of vandalism we haven’t seen in our park system in 20 years,” Recreation and Parks Director Alex Posada said. “This structure was our biggest investment in that park. We don’t have replacement funds for that equipment.”
The City of Santa Maria is offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for this fire. City Councilmember Mike Cordero pledged another $500 bringing the total reward to $2,500.
The fire melted many of the structure's plastic components. The damaged equipment is surrounded by fencing.
The playground's steel-framed structure was constructed with children ages 5-12 in mind, and measures about 20 feet wide by 60 feet long. It had plastic coating on its decks, walkways, bridges and slides. It also had stairs, ladders and a climbing wall.
Armstrong Park is the only park serving the neighborhoods west of U.S. Highway 101 from Stowell Road to Alvin Avenue.
"I always came to this park, I played softball, I played right here, when did this happen?", asked local resident Celeste Martinez about the damage to the playground structure.
Neighborhood kids were saddened by the suspected vandalism. "We used to come here a lot to play, now we can't, now we have nowhere, besides the grass", said Marcos Navarro.
"Its a good place to hang out before you go to school", added Xavier Munoz, "that's not cool bro."
"Its not really respectful to the people that made this park, because they spent lots of money and took time to make it", said David Navarro.
"We come out here everyday to practice with baseball and stuff and after practice the kids look forward to getting an ice cream and playing on the playground and you have to come and look at this, its just horrible", said local parent Andrea Garcia.
Santa Maria City Recreation and Parks officials say community donations are being accepted to help with the cost of replacing the playground structure. Donations can be made in person at the Recreation and Parks Department's administrative office at 615 McClelland Street.
The rest of the park remains opens, according to officials, with a second play structure for 2-5 year olds in operation.
"The City will redirect $45,000 from playground funds for other purposes, and redirect nearly $170,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds as approved on Tuesday, April 4th by the City Council," said city officials in a press statement.
Anyone with information regarding this fire is asked to call Santa Maria Fire Marshal Darrell Delgado at 805-925-0951 ext. 1578.