While there may have been sparks of romance between two high school students during the early hours of May 2, the sparks from a fireworks-stunt-gone-awry ignited more than their hearts. That night, a 17-year-old student asked a girl out to prom and set fire to a children's playground in the process.
"It's really a teenager who exercised some poor judgement in asking this girl to the prom," says Madison Police Department spokesperson Joel DeSpain. "He had used some fireworks and ... got some fabric that he used to spell out the word 'prom.' He brought her over to the playground and somehow ignited the stuff so the word 'prom' lit up."
"She did say she would go with him," DeSpain adds.
The public playground is located inside the Olive Jones Park, 1810 Regent St., adjacent to Randall Elementary School. The playground was renovated several years ago using donations raised by local residents, totaling more than $100,000.
Rubber tire chips contributed to the blaze after catching fire. DeSpain says the city's parks division estimated the damage at $40,000.
According to the police report filed a week after the fire, the 17-year-old young man admitted to starting it and was "remorseful and apologetic" to investigators. The report also states detectives would meet with the Dane County District Attorneys Office to determine "appropriate charges and a resolution for the case." Whether the District Attorney pressed charges is unknown. A representative from the office says the case is confidential because the perpetrator is a juvenile.
After the fire, neighborhood residents worked with the Madison Parks Division to reconstruct the playground, which reopened Tuesday. They also helped choose what material to cover the grounds with, referred to as a "safety surface."
Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff says residents' concerns over the toxicity of the fumes released from tire mulch, in the event of another fire, influenced their decision to choose woodchips. She says residents also liked the idea of using an environmentally friendly resource.
Madison Parks spokesperson Laura Whitmore says the city is unique in making its woodchip mulch in-house.
"We've acquired a commercial quality mulcher and a safety impact tester," she says.
The parks division acquired the equipment for $12,000, significantly less than the $35,000 the city spent each year using private contractors to maintain mulch safety surfaces.
"We have the ability to work with our forestry section and the street division to reuse trees that needed to be taken down," Whitmore adds.