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Community determined to rebuild playground

A child looks at the charred Jamie Bell Adventure Playground in Toronto's High Park that was suspected to have been deliberately set ablaze early Saturday morning.

Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail/Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

Near the charred remains of a High Park playground, a child's drawing is affixed to a post. It conveys a simple, heartfelt message, scrawled in red crayon: "We miss you castle."

The beloved wooden castle was part of Jamie Bell Adventure Playground, built by 3,000 volunteers in 1998 and set ablaze a little more than a week ago, allegedly by a lone man.

Police have charged Christian Kupiecki, 19, of Toronto with arson and attempting to obstruct justice. As he awaits his next court date scheduled for May 1, residents and their local councillor are drafting plans to rebuild. They hope the playground can be reopened before summer begins.

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"Why should our community, our children be without a playground because someone burned it?" Councillor Sarah Doucette said Sunday.

The city has yet to determine the cost of rebuilding. The price will hinge in part on how much of the playground can be salvaged. Also unclear is whether the city's insurance coverage can be tapped into – the deductible may be larger than the claim.

Donations for the playground began streaming in immediately, with Canadian Tire pledging $50,000 and TD Bank committing $10,000. Although the city owns the site, waiting for civic funding to rebuild could take years, Ms. Doucette noted.

Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation is collecting financial contributions for the Jamie Bell playground on the charity's website. People who want to offer help with construction or other aspects of rebuilding can contact Ms. Doucette's Ward 13 office. About 1,000 people have volunteered already.

Ms. Doucette said city staff will be responsible for drafting the playground's design. She hopes a public meeting on the park can be held next month.

One thing is clear: Except for a few tweaks, such as adding windows to the castle's turrets, people who use the playground want it to look as it did before the fire. Made of white pine, the gothic-style wooden structure has been lauded for its design. It stood out from its plastic and metal counterparts, which have long dominated parks and school yards.

"It won't be plastic. It will be wood. That's what makes it unique," said Robin Sorys, who was the project's volunteer co-ordinator in the 1990s and is helping with restoration plans. "It's what residents want," she added. "They want the castle back."

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