Children in Santa Maria’s northeast section will be able to play again in Armstrong Park this fall, according to city parks officials.

When visitors visit the park now, they see a metal barrier wrapped around a large open space where a play structure once stood.

At about 1 a.m. March 27, Santa Maria firefighters were called to the park after receiving multiple calls that the Armstrong Park playground was on fire.

The blaze destroyed the park’s large play structure, designed for 5- to 12-year-olds. The steel-framed structure measured about 20 feet wide by 60 feet long. It had plastic coating on its decks, walkways, bridges and slides, stairs, ladders and a climbing wall.

The structure was valued at about $200,000.

“We will have a playground in the fall for the kids to come back to,” said Alex Posada, director of the Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department.

There were concerns as to how the city would replace the play structure after the fire, which is still under investigation.

After the blaze, the Recreation and Parks Department and its nonprofit support organization PLAY Inc. reached out to the community to raise $10,000 to help fund replacement equipment and its installation.

“The playground was the biggest in the city and was not only used by residents from the surrounding neighborhoods but throughout the city,” Santa Maria Community Programs Manager Rosie Narez said in a report on funding for the structure’s replacement.

Narez, along with the city’s Community Development Block Grant Committee, was able to redirect about $87,000 from a stalled alley renovation project to help pay for the replacement.

Thanks to donations from the community, the parks department was able to raise about $10,000 more for the project.

“We know we have enough money to buy the equipment, replace the equipment and get that started,” Posada said.

Park leaders wanted to add a poured, rubberized coating to the ground underneath the playground set but decided to go with an engineered wood chip ground covering.

“The missing element to this is the surface below,” Posada said.

He added, the department had to make the change because it wasn’t sure if and when it would get any additional community block grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The unclear part is whether or not the federal funds for 2017-18 will be made available, and how much will be made available,” Posada said.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.

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