Apparent Arson Destroys Community Playground
By: Carly O'Keefe
BENTON, Ill. - Arson destroys a new playground built earlier this year through local donations and a lot of hard work.
"We're all pretty sure this is where it started," said Benton Park Manager Bill "Scooter" Nelms as he pointed to one of three playground landings that is now burnt to a crisp. "There was a plastic crawl tube where the kids could crawl from this landing to the other. It's all melted, except for this little bit."
Late Monday night, someone intentionally set fire to what was designed to be a flame resistant playground, which Nelms feels could not have been easy to do.
"It had a fire-proof coating on it. The company tells me that it has to have an accelerant on it to burn. Just a normal pile of leaves or newspaper wouldn't do it," Nelms said.
Trudee Wynn, a mother, helped choose the components and design the playground. She is outraged that an apparent arsonist destroyed it.
"We thought maybe in time people would put graffiti on it, but you'd never think anyone would set fire to it," said Wynn.
What really burns Wynn is that she and countless others put a lot of time and money into building something for the kids they hoped would last. Now, only nine months later their hard work is melted, charred and totally unsafe for children.
"We were really proud of it once we got it. I think the parks board was pleased, and the community was pleased, so it's very disheartening that someone would do this," Wynn said.
The playground was built in March with help from an Illinois Department of Natural Resources grant. The total cost was $70,000, half of which was raised by folks in the community.
"It was a community project and this is kind of a slap in the face to the community for all the effort they had done," Nelms said.
The playground is insured, and according to Nelms, it will be rebuilt. It may take months to demolish the burnt jungle gym and rebuild it. Most likely Benton kids will go without it most of the summer.
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