Less than a day after fire engulfed a sprawling storybook playground in Winfield’s Island Park, three women with ties to the town decided to move past grief toward rebuilding.
Kelli Grant, Natasha Morris and Andrea Hottman on Friday organized Save & Rebuild Island Park, a donation-only fundraising nonprofit to collect tax-deductible contributions to supplement the playground’s reconstruction or improvement costs not covered by insurance.
It is one of a few efforts – and several offers of cash by individuals, a city official said – trying to breathe life back into what many call the heart of Winfield. The goal is to raise at least $10,000.
“The driving force for me is family,” said Grant, a Winfield native who now lives in Wichita. “People come in from all sorts of little towns in the area, and that’s where they go.
“I’m committed to making sure the city has extra funds for improvement.”
Thursday’s fire marks the second time the playground, known as “castle park,” has burned down since it was built in 2004 using volunteers and $250,000 in community-raised funds. The city used insurance money and donations – about $750,000 – to rebuild and improve the playground in 2009 after the first fire a year earlier.
Winfield City Manager Warren Porter said as of Saturday, no arrests had been made in the latest fire, which is considered suspicious by authorities.
“It doesn’t just hurt the Winfield community, it hurts everyone,” Grant said of the fire. “We’ve got to get in gear moving that feeling from anger and fear to facts and solutions.”
From fire to Facebook
Winfield parents, including Morris, tucked their children into bed Thursday evening with plans to relish the following afternoon playing at Island Park.
The kids were out of school for spring break. Forecasters had predicted a sunny, 80-degree day, she said.
But shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday, someone ignited the playground. Crews from Winfield, Atlanta, Arkansas City, Burden and Udall battled the fire for 45 minutes, Winfield Fire Department said in a news release.
Several onlookers watched orange flames lick up the turrets of the playground’s multi-story castle and contacted family and friends. Grant’s father, longtime Winfield resident Jim Jones, sent her a text message: “Island Park is on fire again. … Unbelievable.”
“My mind was just moving,” Grant said. “I knew I was going to do something, I just didn’t know what.”
Hottman learned of the fire on Facebook.
“I was just infuriated that little kids didn’t have a place to go and play,” said Hottman, a Leavenworth resident who grew up in Winfield.
“But it’s not proactive to just sit around and be sad about it.”
By noon Friday, Grant had filed for an employer identification number from the Internal Revenue Service to set up the nonprofit and set up a Facebook page. By 5 p.m., the ladies opened the “Save & Rebuild Island Park” fund at Citizens Bank of Kansas and a PayPal account accept online.
The women say they know the city has insurance to help rebuilding. But they are planning for unexpected costs.
According to Porter, the insurance paid more than $600,000 to rebuild and replace the structures after the 2008 arson. The city paid $130,000 plus a $2,500 deductible out-of-pocket, he said. Other enhancements were paid for using donations.
Porter said he thinks insurance will cover the rebuilding this time, too.
“If people want to make these donations, we will gladly accept their donations,” he said. “But we’re not asking for them at this time.”
Right now bright orange plastic fencing and crime-scene tape encloses the charred remains of the once grand playground.
An insurance adjuster from EMC Insurance Co. began assessing the damage Friday, Porter said.
Design and planning for new playground will start soon. Porter said he expects it to reopen – likely with a new design and enhanced features – before the year’s end.
“Last time it took about seven months. I’d imagine it will be the same time frame on a similar project,” he said.
Until then, the trio of women spearheading the nonprofit are organizing fundraisers and watching the balance of the “Save & Rebuild Island Park” rise.
“Winfield is a really caring and tight community,” Morris said. “I’m expecting to go above and beyond $10,000.
“Even if all the costs are covered, we want to go above and beyond when we rebuild.”