A suspect or suspects used a grinder to cut into Aley Pool in south Wichita early Wednesday morning and then caused $53,000 in damage when they burned dozens of chairs and sunshades, according to Wichita officials.
“It was definitely caused on purpose,” Wichita Park and Recreation director Troy Houtman said during a news conference at the pool Wednesday morning. “Obviously they used some kind of accelerant to start the fire, and that fire burned the chairs, and then the flames from the chairs burned the sunshades, which caused a really large flame up in the sky.”
The pool, which opened Memorial Day weekend, will be closed Wednesday and Thursday.
Houtman said that Wichita splash pads have already been vandalized this season, including copper being stolen at Linwood Park. But, he said, the pool at Aley Park is one of the worst cases of vandalism.
City Council member Jeff Blubaugh, whose district includes the pool, said this needs to stop and asked anyone with information about the incident to call the authorities.
“It’s nothing more than just pure destruction to our neighborhoods and our quality of life,” he said during the news conference. “We have such a limited time for this pool to be open during the summer. Now here on day three, we’re already closed for a day or two to be able to get it back up and running again.”
The fire was reported at 12:55 a.m. and firefighters arrived at 1 a.m., according to a Sedgwick County Emergency Communications supervisor. Houtman said the fire was put out around 1:30 a.m.
Six of the pool’s sunshades and about 30 patio chairs were burned in the incident. The chairs are stacked in the evening, but were dragged beneath the sunshades before being set on fire, he said.
A security camera has been ordered for the facility to help deter further destruction. Houtman said a request also has been made for more surveillance from Wichita police.
“These are all things that eat into our budget, dollars that can be spent somewhere else on something else better other than having to replace things,” Houtman said.
The city has already made adjustments to Aley Pool to combat vandalism from previous years, such as adding grates to the windows and extra locks to the doors.
Last year, there was roughly $160,000 in damage by vandals who broke into the pool house and destroyed items and tagged the building, he said.
“It just seems like every time we try to fix it, they find another way to add more vandalism, more destruction, and it’s just causing us to have more repairs,” he said. “Summer’s just kicking off, and we’re excited about summer, but we know that we’re a target and we’re just trying to address these targets.”
Anyone with information about the vandalism is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 316-267-2111 or the See Something Say Something hotline at 316-519-2282. Callers can remain anonymous with Crime Stoppers.
Contributing: Michael Stavola with The Eagle