The torched Jamie Bell Adventure Playground in High Park is receiving a helping hand from one of Canada’s most famous handymen.
Mike Holmes, the host of Holmes Makes it Right on Home and Garden Television Canada will be leading the reconstruction effort.
The wooden playground, originally built in 1998, was severely damaged in March in an act of arson. Toronto Police have arrested 19-year-old Christian Kupiecki and he has been charged with one count each of arson and attempting to obstruct justice.
But the mood was jubilant and celebratory at the May 18 groundbreaking, said local resident Robin Sorys, who initially helped build the park as a member of the High Park Citizens Advisory Committee the first time around.
“I’m just happy that this is all going to work out,” she said. “It’s very exciting.”
Although the community will not be physically constructing the playground as they did with the original park, they will still be involved in the design.
“I know some of the people are a little upset that it’s not going to be community built back like it was in 1998, but here’s a great opportunity and it’ll be done by July 7,” said Sorys. “So I’m very happy with the fact we’ve been able to do this.”
While the new playground will stay true to the original concept, complete with a wooden castle and big slide, there could be some improvements. There has been talk of adding seating, as well as moving the slide to the south side to eliminate a perceived blind spot.
There is also currently a problem with water drainage that Holmes is looking into. Sorys said they are looking into treating that water so it could be used to create a recreational area, which was part of the original playground’s plan.
“Part of our phase three, if Jamie had still been with us, was some kind of splash pad for the kids,” she said. “There’s no water at all at that end of the park.”
Discussion on adding lighting is in the preliminary stages, but that may be limited by funds.
Monies for the reconstruction effort are coming entirely from donations, from organizations such as Canadian Tire, Lowe’s and TD Bank Group.
All together more than $80,000 was donated. The Sprott Foundation is also matching donations made to the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation until June 30 up to a maximum of $30,000.
For Ward 13 councillor Sarah Doucette, who was a friend of High Park Adventure Committee coordinator Jamie Bell, the most important aspect is staying true to Bell’s original vision.
“For me personally, it’s amazing to be able to help lead the charge to rebuild the playground because I knew Jamie and I know his family,” said Doucette. “It’s not just a name on a plaque in a playground.”
Doucette said the arson sparked to the same community spirit as when the playground was first built.
“The playground was planned and built by volunteers, it wasn’t just choose a playground out of the catalogue and throw it in,” Doucette said. “There was a lot of passion and dedication.
“Now we can rebuild this playground in a way that Jamie would be proud,” she added. “And that means a lot to me.”