By Nicholas Rizzi
FAR ROCKAWAY — A vandal ravaged a Queens playground this week wielding a construction-site excavator to rip apart slides and other children’s equipment — apparently using a skeleton key to operate the machinery, city officials said.
Officials are searching for the vandal responsible for the destruction at the under-construction Far Rockaway Park West playground on Beach 29th Street Tuesday morning, saying the John Deere excavator used to plow through the site was not hot-wired and was likely accessed by someone with a universal key and experience operating the machinery.
“They broke a section of everything instead of destroying one [thing],” Community Board 14 district manager Jonathan Gaska, who spoke to construction workers at the site. “They did enough that every piece has damage.”
The excavator uses a one-size-fits-all key that can be used to start other, similar machinery, Gaska said, noting that operating the machine requires some experience.
“It wasn’t some young child,” Gaska added of the perpetrator. “It’s someone who’s been around construction equipment before.”
“It’s not just like driving a car,” he added. “You have to be trained to do it.”
Slides, fencing, climbing equipment, roofs of the play structures and even some footing where the equipment is secured into the ground were all damaged, according to the Parks Department, which is working with the NYPD to investigate.
“This heartless act of vandalism is a crime against all of the residents of New York City, and especially against the children of Far Rockaway,” Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said in a statement. “We are working closely with the NYPD to catch the perpetrator or perpetrators of this crime.”
The playground was slated to open within a few months, but the Parks Department is unsure when the park will be ready or how much the repairs will cost. The playground’s synthetic grass field was left undamaged.
"I couldn't believe it," Queens Borough President Helen Marshall said about the incident. "It's terrible. It's a wonderful thing the city is trying to do."
She noted the slides, which have interlocking sections, were carefully broken apart to make sure they need to be replaced rather than repaired.
"They really deliberately broke it," Marshall said.
The playground is part of a larger, $30 million local project, which also renovated a nearby park on Beach Ninth street, the Parks Department said.
Construction workers patched up a fence reportedly ripped open during the incident, and they are currently working to assess and repairing the damage.
Gaska said the park was set to be the only one for neighborhood children to play in at night.
“The kids don’t have a place to play around here,” he said. “It’s going to be a beautiful park when it opens.”