SARASOTA - The circus-themed playground that opened at Payne Park in June is one of the jewels of the city. But lately, many of the people who've shown up there have become very angry and frustrated because there are no drinking water or bathroom facilities in the park.
A couple of months ago, vandals broke into the park restrooms and ripped them apart -- even though it's located right across the street from the Sarasota Police Department headquarters.
Oak Park School teachers got a shock Monday when they arrived at the park with a class of special needs middle school students. The kids loved the park and swarmed over all the equipment...but soon there was a big problem. "We were surprised there were no bathroom and water facilities available, because all the parks we’ve been to have always had accommodations. We're very concerned about this," says teacher Mary Alice Hratko.
Ashley Mollette, who is 5 months pregnant, and her 3-year-old daughter Ariana are also concerned. "There are no bathrooms, and she's potty trained. I'm sure a lot of these kids are potty trained, and there's no water, and I'm very hot," says Ashley.
Aga Darbyshire and her 3-year-old daughter Alexandra like the circus park so much they drive up once a week from Venice to use it. But she says the lack of toilets and drinking water now ruins the fun. "There are tons of children and parents, and you cannot really use it properly. You have to leave after 45 minutes otherwise you could stay and enjoy it much longer."
Todd Kucharski, the general manager of the City of Sarasota's Public Works Department, says he's probably more frustrated than anyone. The park and all its facilities were the pride and joy of the city before the vandals struck. "We had a severe case of vandalism; and I say severe case, they completely destroyed all the amenities that were in the restrooms. We're in the process now of getting a contractor to repair, make the necessary repairs for this, ordering the material to put it in."
Repairs will cost about $30,000 -- money that's hard to come by in this economy. And the city has to go through a certain protocol to get bids and get the work done.
And even though he's working hard to get the facilities up and running again, it's going to be a while. "We're shooting for the end of the year so we can get them up and running about the time when the playground should be fully completed as well," says Kucharski.
He says to keep it from happening again, the new facilities will be industrial strength and almost impossible to damage.
No arrests have been made, but the investigation is underway and we understand they do have some pictures of the vandals.