Goshen PD seeks park arsonist

Goshen now has two park pavilions needing repair or replacement after arson fires at three pavilions since March, the latest one hitting Oakridge Park early Monday.

Posted on July 3, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

Click here for information on the Middlebury fires currently under investigation.

GOSHEN — Goshen officials are looking for an arsonist who's burning city park pavilions.

“Someone out there knows who started these fires,” said Jim Ramer, Goshen's assistant fire chief, outside the Oakridge Park Pavilion, which burned early Monday in the third pavilion fire since March.

There's a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arsonist, Ramer said.

The Historic Dickerson Landing Neighborhood Association will add another $5,000 for information leading to the person or people responsible for Monday's fire, according to Mayor Allan Kauffman.

Kauffman said, “This is sickening that people are doing this. I presume that whoever's responsible lives in this community, and they're burning down their own parks. I would love to see them hung by their thumbs on the courthouse lawn, but I don't think that we can do that.”

Ramer said, “There's a similarity in all three fires with how they were started,” and he believes all three were done by the same person or group of people.

The Rogers Park Pavilion, a historic structure just west of downtown, burned March 14. The smell of smoke was still evident there Monday in the empty, closed-off pavilion, with the evidence of charring apparent throughout the building.

The Pringle Park Pavilion on West Lincoln Avenue still has visible smoke marks, but the structure remains sound and Goshen Community Schools workers were handing out free lunches in the summer lunch program Monday.

At Oakridge, the free lunch program had to move outside the shade of the pavilion.

When Christy Hodge got there at 11 a.m., the excitement of the 5 a.m. fire — called in by a passing bicyclist — was over. “It's really sad,” Hodge said, sitting at one of the picnic tables city and school workers dragged out into the shade of trees. “People with too much time on their hands,” she offered.

With how long it's taken to decide the fate of the Rogers Park Pavilion, Hodge wonders if the Oakridge Park Pavilion will remain off-limits for the next six weeks, the duration of the summer lunches.

“We might be in the shade trees here for the rest of the summer,” she said.

Ramer said the largest dollar damage was to Rogers Park, which he estimated at $60,000 in damage.

Sheri Howland, head of the Goshen Park and Recreation Department, said a month ago she was hopeful she'd hear soon from the city's insurance carrier.

Last week she was still waiting to hear. “The last note that I got from the insurance company was they had all the information they needed from the contractors. We're very anxious to get out there and get that going.”

The problem is that the damage was right on the line between being able to repair or having to completely replace the structure.

“That building used to be a two-story building where they held dances,” Howland said. “They had a roller rink there at one time. The roof, the wood itself underneath is tongue-and-groove,” she said.

While the relatively recent pavilion at Oakridge isn't as large or historic as the one at Rogers, Oakridge is a well-used park, the largest of the city's neighborhood parks, according to the park department.

Ramer said, “it's very disconcerting, especially in this neighborhood,” to have a fire like that. “They've come a long way these last few years” making neighborhood improvements, and this is a setback, according to Ramer.

Anyone with information on Goshen's blazes is asked to call Goshen police at 574-533-8661, Ramer at 574-875-4315 or the arson hotline at 800-382-4628.

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