A trio of police officers is leading the charge in a community effort to rebuild an Abbotsford elementary school's playground destroyed in a recent arson.
The Dr. Thomas A. Swift Elementary School community was heartbroken after much of the equipment at the wheelchair accessible site was left in charred ruins after vandals torched the playground on July 15.
A large climbing wall and glider structure were left in ashes, and other parts of the structure suffered heat damage in the blaze.
After the fire, it wasn't immediately clear if insurance would cover the costs of rebuilding the playground.
The original structure cost upwards of $80,000 and was paid for entirely by Swift parent advisory council fundraising and other community donors.
Abbotsford Police Const. Paul Walker was on duty the night of the arson and was called out to attend the playground incident.
After seeing the damage, the police officer felt compelled to do something.
"I have kids myself, and a playground is not only for the students but the whole community," Walker said.
The fact the structure was designed for special needs children was extra motivation.
"They go through enough in life as it is . . . something as simple as a playground can bring out joy and excitement for those kids," he said.
Walker approached his superior officer, Sgt. Judy Dizy, and asked if the APD could undertake some sort of initiative to rebuild the playground.
Dizy agreed immediately, and along with another officer, Const. Karen Burridge, they got busy.
They originally planned to raise the entire $60,000 needed for the replacement and installation of the equipment.
The three officers have been working off the sides of their desks and in their free time, organizing fundraisers and reaching out to community partners.
The response has been amazing, said Dizy.
Many community groups and businesses have offered up either time, money or in-kind donations to the cause.
"I've been here 20 years, and the community is stepping forward the way I knew they would," said Dizy.
Constables Walker and Burridge have scrambled to organize a public fundraising party at Swift Elementary on Aug. 9.
The family affair will include a barbecue, dunk tank, bouncy castle and games for children and families.
Clearbrook and Abbotsford Kiwanis Clubs - involved in the original construction of the playground - are assisting along with the Abbotsford Community School.
As are local businesses, including the Esposito Group, Thrifty's, Tim Hortons, Price Smart and Innovative Fitness.
Since the fundraising efforts got under way, it's become clear the Ministry of Education insurance will cover the bulk of the costs.
But a $10,000 deductible still needs to be raised.
Any extra funds raised will go to the elementary school's PAC, which had been trying to raise funds for older equipment that needs replacement.
"We also want to put in some benches because there's no places for parents to sit," said Dizy.
Swift PAC vice president Joanne Gruber was overwhelmed to hear of the playground initiative.
"Oh my goodness, that's really amazing," said Gruber. "It shows what a great community we live in when people are willing to pull together, step up and make things happen.
The PAC thought it would have scrape together the funds for the deductible, she said.
"I think the nicest part is that your faith in humanity is shaken when someone randomly burns down a playground.
But it's restored when someone randomly steps up to fix it."
- The APD family-fun fundraising party to replace the damaged playground equipment is Thursday, Aug. 9 from 4 to 8 p.m. at Dr. Thomas A. Swift Elementary School, 34800 Mierau St.