The community surrounding a south side elementary school is in shock, after vandals set fire to the school’s playground overnight, causing thousands of dollars in damages.

Students at Velma E. Baker Elementary School arrived for classes Friday to a shocking scene – a section of their playground seriously damaged by fire.

The sight shook many students to the core.

“I actually started to cry because I was shocked and surprised,” Grade 6 student Natalie Thorarinson said. “Why would somebody do that to our park?

“What did the park do to them?”

It’s believed flames broke out on the structure, located on 43A Avenue and 28 Street just before 2 a.m., however when firefighters arrived they were able to quickly gain the upper hand on the blaze.

Investigators later determined the fire was deliberately set.

"We are estimating it at about $5,000 damage," Kevin Bureau with Edmonton Fire Rescue said. “[That’s] due to the fact that a lot of the plastics were melted, and there is a rubberized floor that’s on there, and that floor will have to be replaced.”

“When I saw the black on the park it was heart-wrenching,” Grade 6 student Megan Van Dam said. “I could not bear to look.”

The school’s principal said the playground was built about five years ago – at a total cost of $450,000, with $150,000 from the community league – and a student-run penny drive raised $5,000.

The rest of the playground costs were covered by grants from all three levels of government.

“It’s very alarming that someone would impact children in such a negative manner,” School principal Maureen Macdonald said.

It’s not just the students who were shocked to hear about the blaze Friday, a spokesperson for the Community League, which contributed about a third of the funding for the project, said the development was upsetting for the entire neighbourhood.

“I was very sad, and very upset about it,” Emily Ollerhead with the Community League said. “[I’m] almost kind of mad at times because it’s a lot of money and a lot of time, and it is for our kids.”

Ollerhead said she would like to see whoever is found guilty of setting the blaze, be forced to help rebuild the damaged parts.

The blaze was confined to one section of the playground equipment – a canopy and slide – but the school children said the damaged portion was their favourite part and it’s not clear when it will be repaired.

“At the end of the [school] year, I wanted to get a group shot of the grade sixers at the park,” Thorarinson said. “But it being like this, it probably won’t be finished by the end of the year.”

For now, the students have been asked to stay off the playground until Monday – when school administrators will assess the situation.

Officials are looking into whether insurance will help cover the damages.

Edmonton Police Service Arson investigators have taken over the case, but had few details to share Friday.

With files from Veronica Jubinville