MILLINOCKET, Maine -&nbspThe suspected arson that did $43,000 damage to the town’ s volunteer-funded creative playground July 9 was a despicable crime that would have been worse had a handful of town workers not handled it adroitly.

That was Recreation Department Director Frank Clukey’ s message as the Town Council approved his plan to restore in five-to-six weeks the Katahdin Pride park at the recreation complex at Stearns High School.

“The public needs to realize how lucky we were at that playground that day,” Assistant Fire Chief and Recreation Commission Chairman Thomas Malcolm told the council. “The staff did exactly what they should have done.”

Staff from the nearby town pool spotted the fire and helped contain it while keeping children away from the blaze.

“We can’ t say enough of what a great job they did,” Malcolm said. “Because of them doing it the way they did, it [prevented] a lot more extensive damage than what occurred.”

The fire consumed a 70-foot strip of rubber matting made from recycled tires as it burned a rock climbing wall, slide, miniature plastic firetruck and several swings.

Town Manager Eugene Conlogue felt the crime was galling. He complimented Detective Ron McCarthy for quickly apprehending a 14-year-old boy in connection with the crime. Charges are being reviewed by the Penobscot County District Attorney’ s Office, Police Chief Donald Bolduc said.

“We hope there will be a very fitting penalty for that damage done,” said Conlogue, adding that the situation could have been much worse had children been at the playground. “This is a terrible crime. There is absolutely no defense for this action. None.”

Started in 2004 and largely finished by 2006, the Providing Area Recreation for Kids committee raised about $96,000 for the park. Under Clukey’ s plan, soft wood fiber that mats when compressed will replace the park’ s rubber matting surface for about $12,000. Almost every park ride or toy will be replaced.

The committee once again boosted the effort when Malcolm, a committee member, presented the council with a $1,000 check to cover the insurance deductible.

Much has been made around town about the flammability of the rubber matting, Malcolm said, but he assured the council that the group picked the matting after getting assurances from its manufacturer that it was flame resistant.

“We did every bit of research that we could,” Malcolm said. “What we did, we did with kids and the betterment of the community in mind.”

She had no complaint with the committee’ s choice of shredded rubber, but resident Alyce Maragus seemed pleased the town is opting for the soft wood matting.

“There are a few people in this town that are latex sensitive,” Maragus said. “If you are sensitive to it, it can cause cancer.”

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