Eagles pledge to fix FDR playground torched by arsonist

Mayor Nutter surveys the damaged playground Tuesday before a news conference at FDR Park. "This was not just some random act of vandalism. This was an act of evil that was perpetrated on this community and on our city," the mayor said. The playground, which cost $306,000, was completed in October. Elise Wrabetz / Staff Photographer
Mayor Nutter surveys the damaged playground Tuesday before a news conference at FDR Park. "This was not just some random act of vandalism. This was an act of evil that was perpetrated on this community and on our city," the mayor said. The playground, which cost $306,000, was completed in October. Elise Wrabetz / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 21, 2012

WHAT KIND of attention-starved, coldhearted lunatic would torch a children's playground?

About 9 p.m. Sunday, someone set the newly installed playground equipment at FDR Park in South Philly on fire, burning a metal jungle gym to ruins, as well as a wheelchair-accessible glider, a small climbing wall and the recycled-rubber play surface.

"This was not just some random act of vandalism. This was an act of evil that was perpetrated on this community and on our city," Mayor Nutter declared at a news conference Tuesday at the playground, off Pattison Avenue near Broad Street. He was flanked by about two dozen city officials and community members, including Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross.

Nutter said the playground, "a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility" completed in October, is not expected to be usable for the summer because of the arson.

An $11,000 reward was announced for information leading to arrest and conviction in the case — money from the city, the Fairmount Park Conservancy, Friends of FDR Park, the Packer Park Civic Association and Barbara Capozzi, president of the civic group and secretary of the Friends group.

Also, Christina Weiss Lurie, wife of Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and president of the Eagles Youth Partnership, said that "the Eagles are absolutely going to step up and get this fixed," with employees, players and other volunteers helping to rebuild the playground.

Rob Zeiger, spokesman for Don Smolenski, the new Eagles president and treasurer of the foundation, said afterward that "we have not yet begun the process of scoping out what the project will cost," but are committed to "getting the playground back in action as soon as we can."

He said the Eagles have "assumed most of the costs" of other playground builds at schools around the city.

City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, whose district includes FDR Park, said he would pledge $100,000 from his capital budget to rebuild the playground site. He called the fire "probably the dumbest crime of the century."

Nutter said the playground site cost $306,000 — half funded by the city and half by the FDR Park trust fund. He estimated that half of the equipment was destroyed. Although some pieces can be salvaged, "the entire area has to be completely cleared," he said. The perpetrators "should hope that I never find them myself before the police," the mayor warned.

Looking out onto the melted ruins with his son Mario, 5, Gregory Jacovini, 33, president of Friends of FDR Park, lamented: "It's just a hateful thing to do."

He encouraged people to come to the park's free concerts from 7 to 10 p.m. July 27, Aug. 31 and Sept. 28. n

Contact Julie Shaw at 215-854-2592 or shawj@phillynews.com.

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