Vandals torch, damage playgrounds across Oahu

Jefferson Elementary (Photo: Karl)

They’re considered happy places where children can play.

Now, the community is left picking up the pieces after three separate acts of vandalism at playgrounds across Oahu.

On Sunday, a community playground on Schofield Barracks was burned down.

Police say three males were playing on the jungle gym when one of them lit a piece of newspaper on fire. Soon after, the playground went up in flames.

The area is now blocked off.

Last week, vandals took a saw to a playground at Hahaione Elementary in East Oahu.

And about a month ago, a playground at Jefferson Elementary in Waikiki was set on fire.

The combined total for repairing and replacing the two elementary school playgrounds is well over $100,000.

For the 403 students at Jefferson Elementary, recess is a lot different without a playground.

An orange fence now blocks off the area where a playground once stood, before someone set fire to the structure on July 3.

“We provided them with extra kick ball soccer balls. They’re pretty resilient. They’re making do with what they have,” said principal Garret Zakahi.

Just steps away from the burned playground is another playground, but it’s also off-limits to the kids. Zakahi says there’s a good reason.

“That structure is not available to students until I can assure the area is safe to play on,” he said.

Zakahi says he’s worried the fire caused soil contamination. An analysis was taken a week ago, but he won’t get the results for another month.

It will cost $157,000 to replace the playground. “Hopefully, crossing my fingers, by October we will have a structure set up,” Zakahi said.

Over at Hahaione Elementary, parents are stunned at the news of vandals taking a saw to the playground.

“I’m really disappointed. We think the playgrounds here are the best ones in the neighborhood,” said parent Elissa Pham, whose son is in kindergarten at Hahaione.

“It’s not like it’s graffiti. It’s major structural damage. Someone put time and effort into destroying this thing,” said parent Janelle Newton, whose three children attend Hahaione.

The Department of Education says crews took out the dangerous parts and reopened the playground, but is working out a plan for the rest of the repairs.

We asked the department if there is a school insurance policy covering renovations or repairs for school playgrounds.

The DOE says it works with the Department of Accounting and General Services risk management office to file a claim for any facilities loss.

In the past, playground equipment was not covered, and it working to see if that has changed.

In a statement, DOE spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said, “We appreciate the quick response of our administrators, facilities office and the community in rallying around our schools when incidents of vandalism occur on our campuses. Our first priority is ensuring the safety of our students and reestablishing a safe environment.

“Ultimately, incidents of vandalism end up impacting our students the most. While the department does its best to secure our campuses, we will continue to ask the communities around our schools to help us in reporting suspicious activity to the police.”

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