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Harwood playground to be rebuilt after fire

A city-owned playground in the Harwood neighborhood of North Baltimore that was substantially damaged in a fire last month and recently drew the attention of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will be rebuilt, according to city officials.

A claim to replace the damaged parts of the playground was filed with the city's Office of Risk Management by the Department of Recreation and Parks, which operates the playground and about 100 others like it throughout the city, shortly after the fire occurred on Aug. 13, according to Gwendolyn Chambers, a recreation and parks spokeswoman.

Once the claim is fully processed, recreation and parks will begin "restoring the damaged equipment," Chambers said.

Chambers gave the same news to Rawlings-Blake's office after the mayor began asking questions about the burned playground Sunday, after receiving a message on the social media website Twitter from user Melissa Schober (@melissa_schober).

Schober, a health policy analyst for the Mental Hygiene Administration and a health policy graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, attached a photograph of the burned playground to the message and told the mayor she had put in a 311 call about it.

"I was just hoping to get somebody to pay attention to it a little bit sooner than 311 usually pays attention to things," said Schober, who lives in Charles Village, on the edge of Harwood. "I was just thinking how sad it was to explain to my 4-year-old daughter why we couldn't go to the playground."

Rawlings-Blake saw Schober's message and wanted to know what had happened and what was being done about it, said Ian Brennan, a spokesman for the mayor.

Firefighters first responded to the playground in the 400 block of East 27th Street about 1:37 p.m. Aug. 13 after getting reports of a brush fire in the area, according to Chief Kevin Cartwright, a fire spokesman.

The fire was extinguished by 2:28 p.m., and fire investigators determined its cause to be "improperly discarded smoking materials," Cartwright said.

The playground has been surrounded by police tape since the fire occurred.

Chambers said she did not know how long it would take for the claim to be processed and the damaged parts of the playground to be replaced.

Schober said there is no indication that recreation and parks is already working to fix the park, so she didn't think anything was being done.

If the park is fixed, she will be "thrilled," she said.

As for Rawlings-Blake's spotting her tweet and asking around on her behalf?

"It is encouraging that she saw the tweet," Schober said. "And it is surprising, because it seems the mayor generally uses Twitter as a PR feed."

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