Unknown thieves have stolen three-foot replicas of Henry Mercer's fall and winter tiles from their home at Kids Castle in Doylestown Township's Central Park.
The culprits have until Friday at 4 p.m. to return the artwork, no questions asked.
The theft, however, has prompted the formation of a new community watch group to patrol the playground, which is undergoing a restoration effort.
"Although this is disappointing, this will not deter us from our mission and only makes our drive stronger to engage the community to help us save the Castle from vandals and thieves like this," said Dawn Byers, one of the leaders of the Save Kids Castle group organizaing the effort to restore the playground.
The theft was discovered Sunday morning when members of the group's Arts and Beautification committee returned to the play castle to continuing photographing the artwork decorating the castle before it is removed and catalogued for the upcoming restoration.
Where two replicas of Mercer's tiles had hung in the "farmyard" play area, committee coordinator Angelique Toadvine discovered only discolored circles remaining on the wood. Pine Run Elementary School students, under the direction of art teacher Stephanie Thomas, had designed and installed the pieces about five years ago, Byers said.
"These were some of our finest pieces of artwork on the playground," she said.
The group filed a police report Monday night; the thieves have until Friday at 4 p.m. to turn the pieces into either the township building or the police department. However, Byers said the group will press charges for any artwork theft or vandalism that occurs from here on out.
At their monthly meeting Monday night, the group's coordinators decided to form a community watch group called "Knights of Kids Castle." Under the direction of Clean-Up Committee Coordinator Tara D'Angelo, the Knights will patrol the playground at various times throughout the day and night to deter future theft and vandalism, Byers said.
In addition, Security Subcommittee Coordinator Steve Vernik will work to install a video camera and motion detector lights as a security measure.
Built by about 3,000 volunteers from all around Bucks County and beyond, Kids Castle opened in June 1997. But 15 years of play have taken their toll.
An annual safety audit in May 2012 found more than 38 repairs needed, 23 of which needed immediate attention. A volunteer group has formed to try to raise money to save the iconic playground for future generations of kids.
The group estimates it needs about $750,000 to replace the castle and the play equipment surrounding it with maintenance-free, nontoxic materials, designed by Central Bucks kids themselves.
Right now, the group is trying to raise $25,000 by Dec. 31. If it does, the Byers Choice Foundation will donate a matching $25,000.