Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

ST. AUGUSTINE'S PROJECT SWING Park Is Back in the Swing Community Playground Reopens after Being Destroyed by Fire

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

ST. AUGUSTINE'S PROJECT SWING Park Is Back in the Swing Community Playground Reopens after Being Destroyed by Fire

Article excerpt

ST. AUGUSTINE -- Some dashed to the green bobbing dinosaur. Some ran to the slides. Five-year-old Ean Spencer headed for the tire swing.

"This is my favorite park," said little Ean, whose mother, Rachelle, took him to the reopening of Project SWING, St. Augustine's treasured community park that was destroyed by vandals and rebuilt by about 1,000 volunteers during the past three weeks.

A fire ripped through the community-built playground in December, damaging about a quarter of the wooden fantasy park at Cordova Street and Castillo Drive. Three teenagers were arrested and charged with starting the fire.

As project coordinators and city officials commemorated the reopening of the park, volunteers, parents and children gathered at the park's entrance. Once the red ribbon was cut, children swarmed back into their park while parents followed, carrying infants or pushing strollers.

Like other parents, Spencer, of St. Augustine, enjoyed taking her son to the park and was saddened when she heard about the fire.

"It's a safe place to bring them," she said, standing by the entrance. "They can't really get lost here. It was sad when it was burned."

Her son was upset by the fire, she said, and kept a newspaper article about the fire in his bedroom. He always asked about when they could go back to the park, she said.

From the moment word of the fire spread through town, residents and businesses were offering their time and money to rebuild. The city had received about $10,000 in contributions toward restoration, said project coordinator Les Thomas, who helped organize the reconstruction.

Renovations included a "contractors weekend" for professional contractors and artists, which included reconstructing portions of the playground that were destroyed, such as an alligator-shaped balance beam. Two Saturdays were set aside for volunteers of all ages and skill levels to apply a fresh coat of stain to the entire playground and add a fresh layer of mulch. …

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