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School playground burns again


SHEFFIELD TWP. - For the second time in two years, the playground at Vincent Elementary School burned to the ground in what officials are calling a suspicious fire.

Around 1:30 a.m., the Sheffield Township Fire Department responded to the school on North Ridge Road and put out the fire after about 15 minutes, Fire Chief Joseph Bandagski said.

At 3:28 a.m., a second call came in that the school itself was on fire, Bandagski said, adding that call was a false alarm.

When firefighters arrived at Vincent Elementary the second time, they were told the Sheriff's Office had a suspect in custody, Bandagski said.

A sheriff's spokeswoman said Saturday night there wasn't any record of anyone being booked into the jail on an arson charge.

According to a spokesman with the Sheffield Fire Department, which was called for mutual aid, the person who made the second call claimed he'd set the school on fire and also claimed responsibility for the playground fire.

Vincent's playground was burned down in August 2008, when three young girls were caught on security cameras setting fire to newly installed blue mulch. The fire spread to the entire playground.

Two of the girls, ages 11 and 12, smelled of smoke when questioned later that same afternoon by sheriff's deputies. In January 2009, deputies were still hoping to identify the third girl.

A message left for sheriff's Capt. John Reiber seeking additional information about both investigations wasn't returned.

Insurance money and community donations helped get the playground rebuilt in 2008, Clearview school board member Connie Finney said.

"It was worse this time," Finney said. "I saw one piece of plastic lying on the ground. There are just metal poles sticking out of the ground with yellow tape around and burnt blue mulch. ... I don't even know how long it will take to get it rebuilt. It's all going to have to be redone."

Finney said she can't understand why this happened again. The students will be forced to make other arrangements for the games that were scheduled to take place on the playground during the last week of school next week, she said.

"I can't conceive of why some fool would go out and do that," she said. "I don't understand the kicks they got from it. I'm glad it's not the school, that it didn't get that far. It's obviously someone looking for attention, looking for help. That's the only way I can understand it. It amazes me.  It's beyond my comprehension."

School board Treasurer John Scott is already looking into insurance issues connected with this second fire, Finney said. In the meantime, children will have to play elsewhere, she said.

"It's not just the students," Finney said. "Kids from the neighborhood over there, even if school is out during the summer, that's a place for the kids to go and play, and now there's nothing for them."

Contact Alicia Castelli at 329-7144 or

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