The accessible playground in Yellowknife's Somba K'e Park on June 8, 2022. Amelia Eqbal/Cabin Radio
The City of Yellowknife’s battle to protect a newly installed playground is taking up vast quantities of staff time and requiring thousands of dollars.
The playground, open since September last year, has specially designed activities and infrastructure intended to allow all children of all abilities to play safely.
But for months on end, vandals have carved crude messages into equipment, sprayed graffiti and, in the latest reported incident, set a small fire beneath one of the playground’s installations.
The vandalism prompted an impassioned response earlier this summer from Yellowknife Canadian Tire co-owner Jason Butorac, who – with his wife, Karen – made a personal donation to help finance the playground’s construction.
“My wife and I spent our own money, and we’re letting people trash it?” Butorac asked aloud in June. “I’m so mad.”
Last week, following the fire incident, Cabin Radio asked the city to set out how much time has been spent this summer attempting to combat vandalism at this one playground alone.
The city is understood to send staff out daily to inspect the park – within easy walking distance of City Hall – and tackle any vandalism they find.
“The city purchased new cleaning equipment this summer to make this more efficient and gentler for the wear and tear of the structures and pavement,” spokesperson Richard McIntosh said by email.
McIntosh said that in 2022 to date, maintenance of the inclusive playground is estimated to have taken up “approximately 1,600 hours” of staff time.
Assuming a regular staff day involves around eight hours of work, that 1,600-hour figure equates to roughly 200 work days. There have been 197 working days from the start of the year to October 17, meaning the city has – in terms of working hours – lost an entire position to battling vandalism at one playground this year.
McIntosh said the city has also spent $4,500 on materials to remove the end result of vandalism.
He said the above figures did not include work to fix “the recent damage where playground equipment seems to have been deliberately set on fire.”
There are understood to be no cameras trained on the playground for security purposes (and nor is it clear – given past occurrences at City Hall – if the installation of cameras at such a facility would be welcomed by all residents).
Hiring full-time security would be expensive and impractical. Other cities facing similar challenges have tried brightening the lighting at playgrounds, increasing patrols by municipal enforcement or police, and engaging directly with youth in the community.
“The city works hard to maintain our facilities to keep them both welcoming and respectful,” McIntosh concluded. He asked residents to report any further vandalism using the city’s Click and Fix app.