Playground fire at Spenard school was arson, officials say

Anchorage Daily NewsAugust 6, 2012 

Vandals burned playground equipment at Aquarian Charter School early Monday morning, causing an estimated $45,000 of damage just before the school year is set to begin, district officials said.

Lucas Saltzman, who is starting his first year as the elementary school's principal, said the vandalism happened sometime between 4 and 5 a.m.The school is at 1705 W. 32nd Ave. in Spenard.

School officials believe someone lit the rubber mulch playground surface on fire, which spread to an outdoor climbing wall.

"It pretty much destroyed that," he said.

A neighbor reported the fire after seeing smoke or flames, Saltzman said. Firefighters were able to extinguish it quickly, and damage was limited to the outdoor climbing wall and rubber mulch surrounding it, he said.

The rubber mulch was installed just weeks ago, he said.

The initial cost of the climbing wall, installed about five years ago, was a little more than $9,000, according to ASD spokeswoman Heidi Embley. It was paid for partially by a grant from Cellular One.

The rubber mulch, installed in the past few weeks, cost "tens of thousands of dollars" not including labor, she said.

District officials estimate the total cost of the damage at almost $45,000, Embley said.

The school intends to rebuild or replace the structure, Saltzman said, but that likely won't happen before students return on Aug. 22.

"We're disappointed," he said.

The Anchorage Police Department is investigating the incident.

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Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.

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