By Zachary Reid
Published: June 4, 2009
day will go on, but the summer won't be the same at George Mason
Elementary School in Richmond after an early-morning fire destroyed the
The fire, called in at about 3:30 a.m. yesterday, engulfed most of
the metal structure, burning away the blue-and-red plastic coating and
melting the sliding boards into pools of yellow, mulch-infused muck.
The one-alarm fire was quickly extinguished, but the $70,000 playground
is a complete loss.
"It was a pretty nasty thing to do," said Capt. William Martin of the Richmond Police Department.
The fire remains under investigation, but early signs point to
arson, he said. "We're not seeing any accidental causes," he said.
A little after 9 a.m., Principal Sandra Bynum joined a small crowd
of school officials looking over the damage and securing the gate into
With the school year winding down, she said students were pushing
through the last round of SOL testing -- third-, fourthand
fifth-graders were taking the tests as she spoke -- with an eye on
Tuesday's annual field day. This year, she said, the community helped
put together "an extreme field day," with inflatable rides and games
and other goodies planned. It will go on, but the custom playground
won't be part of it.
"The whole community is going to suffer because of this," she said.
"It's devastating. The kids are upset, and a lot of the teachers are
She spent the first hour of the school day going from class to class, offering grief counseling to students.
"This upsets them," said Felicia Cosby, the school system spokeswoman. "This is their home."
Their home isn't likely to be replaced soon. The school system's insurance policy has a $100,000 deductible.
And with next year's budget already tight because of decreased
funding, there doesn't appear to be money for unplanned playground
equipment, Cosby said.
Martin said it appeared someone set a fire or fires on the structure
and that it smoldered for a while before spreading. He said there was a
report of someone in the area near the time of the fire, but the
description of the person didn't offer much to go on.
Playground or not, Mason will remain open throughout the summer. It
will be the site for summer school for its students, plus those from
nearby Bellevue and Chimborazo elementary schools.