May 25, 2023

Vandals burn playground equipment at McKinley Park in Marion

City of Marion officials are seeking the public's help to identify the individuals who set fire to playground equipment and the restrooms this week at McKinley Park. The Marion Police Department is investigating the incident.

Marion Service Director Cathy Chaffin said the unknown vandals caused more than $50,000 worth of damage to the park when they burned a merry-go-round and a portion of the synthetic playground surface as well as the restrooms adjacent to the playground. The piece of playground equipment was almost completely melted and the surface around it was badly scorched by the fire. She said authorities believe the incident occurred in the overnight hours between Tuesday and Wednesday, sometime between midnight and 1:30 a.m.

"The fact that people would want to cause this type of harm to a public playground is just beyond me," Chaffin told the Star on Thursday. "There are almost no words to describe how disappointing this is. We encourage anyone with information to come forward. We need to stop this from happening in our parks. We have very nice parks in Marion, very well-kept parks, and it's so disheartening that someone could do something of this nature to a place that's designed for everyone to enjoy. It's such a wonderful park."

A motorist traveling past the park early Wednesday morning saw the fire and alerted authorities, Chaffin said. She said the man was on his way to work and observed the playground equipment engulfed in flames, so he stopped and called the Marion County Combined Dispatch Center to alert them about the incident. The man told authorities that he did not see anyone in the area at the time he was driving by, Chaffin said.

In addition to the playground equipment that was vandalized, Chaffin said the trash cans in both the men's and women's restrooms at McKinley Park were set on fire. Fortunately, due to the fact that the restrooms are made of concrete blocks, the damage to the building was minimal. Some burn marks could be observed on the exterior of the building.

McKinley Park was scheduled to be closed temporarily for a couple of days this week so crews could conduct a resurfacing project in the parking lot. Chaffin said the playground will remain closed at least through the end of this week. She hopes to reopen at least part of the playground area this weekend. Until further notice, the area around the merry-go-round will be closed, she said.

Chaffin said there are no surveillance cameras at McKinley Park and any security cameras located at OhioHealth Marion General Hospital are too far away from the playground to provide any clear images. She said authorities have been checking with neighbors who live in the vicinity of the hospital to see if they saw anything or if any of them have exterior cameras on their homes that may have picked up images or video of the incident.

"We were hoping that a resident's camera may have caught something, but, unfortunately, it's not panning out as well as we had hoped," Chaffin explained.

The McKinley Park renovation project cost more than $350,000 and the first phase of the playground equipment was installed in 2020, Chaffin said. She said that the Marion PEP Club, Marion Rotary Club, Marion Community Foundation, OhioHealth Marion General Hospital, and many private citizens contributed funding to make the project possible. The Marion PEP Club was the driving force behind the playground renovation project.

According to Chaffin, the city's insurance carrier will cover the majority of the cost of replacing and repairing the playground and restrooms at McKinley Park. The city will be responsible for paying the $5,000 deductible, she said.

"We are hoping that through the course of the investigation, we will find the perpetrators and they will have to make restitution for the entire project," Chaffin said.

Chaffin said anyone who has information about the vandalism incident at McKinley Park is asked to contact the Marion Police Department at 740-387-2525, or contact her office at 740-387-5865. Those with information about the incident can submit anonymous tips.

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