Toronto

Family rebuilds backyard 'pirate ship' within city rules, after complaint forced them to dismantle it

John Konstantinidis has successfully rebuilt the backyard pirate ship he was forced to dismantle after a complaint to the city last year, and no-one is more thrilled than his two sons. The Scarborough dad built the original play structure to bring his kids some joy during the pandemic.

Father built initial structure last summer to bring his kids joy during pandemic

Family rebuilds backyard ‘pirate ship’ to meet city regulations

10 months ago
Duration 2:13
Last year — during the first pandemic summer — John Konstantinidis built a large "pirate ship" in his backyard to occupy his kids. But the city deemed the structure to be a violation of several rules. Talia Ricci caught up with the Konstantinidis’ family one year later.

Staring proudly at his unique backyard playground, eight-year-old Steven Konstantinidis says he "honestly feels really, really, really excited" about playing on it this summer.

It's been a wave of emotions for the Konstantinidis family. After all, this isn't the first time this labour of love has been built.

John Konstantinidis says when city officials came by last summer and drained the small pool he built inside the pirate-ship play structure, and ordered them to dismantle it, there were a lot of tears and heartbreak for his two sons, Steven and Michael, who is 10.

"The first two weeks were unbearable," Konstantinidis told CBC Toronto.

"It wasn't easy at all but it was a lesson for them too. Life doesn't always bring what they expect." 

Konstantinidis built the original version of the ship last year to get his kids away from their devices and out of the house, and also to spend some quality time together.

But after a neighbour complained, bylaw officers came to their Scarborough home and told them to dismantle the structure — which is actually part swimming pool and part deck — move it and reassemble it.

John Konstantinidis with his wife Voula and their two kids, Michael, left, and Steven. They say tearing down their pirate ship last summer was devastating. The father spent two months building the initial structure while he was off work due to the pandemic, but the city ordered him to take it down after a neighbour complained. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

At that time, Konstantinidis said officials told him the ship was too close to the neighbouring property line, the structure was too long and required a permit. After CBC Toronto published a story about the situation last year, support and advice came pouring in. Konstantinidis was determined to put a smile back on his kids' faces.

"I was really sad and my brother was sadder," Steven said. "I just said, 'It's okay. My dad is probably going to build a new one,' and he did it!"

It took a few weeks of work, months of back and forth with the city and some help from a local playground company, but Steven's dad says it was worth it.

"Rules are rules and that's why we did what we had to do," Konstantinidis said.

Building permit no longer required, city says

In a statement, Toronto Building, which issues permits for the City of Toronto, says staff visited the site July 13.

Staff "found that the structure remains in three separate pieces, each having an area less than 10 square metres. As it stands, no building permit is required and the building permit application previously submitted by the homeowner is currently pending cancellation," the statement reads.

The city goes on to explain that building permits allow the city to confirm that construction projects are structurally sound and follow the Ontario Building Code, municipal zoning and other applicable laws, and such permits are required when constructing a backyard play structure larger than 10 square metres.

Konstantinidis says he moved the structure farther from the neighbouring fence and divided the structure into separate pieces.

"They're not permanent and there's no foundation on it, so that will give us the okay to keep it as it is," he said.

Konstantinidis also improved some safety measures, like adding locks to the covered water area and a chain fence in case the kids get too close to the edge. 

John Konstantinidis says the second attempt at building the play structure took about a month. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

The playground has also brought a lot of joy to other kids in the neighbourhood and it has sparked his two boys' interest in construction.

"Maybe one day, I'll build a skyscraper," Steven said.

Konstantinidis says if they encounter any other requests from inspectors, he's determined to make it work.

"We will keep going until it's 100 per cent satisfaction."

That determination is not lost on his kids.

"What I feel about my dad building this, is he's the best dad in the world and I appreciate it," Michael said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Talia Ricci is a CBC reporter based in Toronto. She has travelled around the globe with her camera documenting people and places as well as volunteering. Talia enjoys covering offbeat human interest stories and exposing social justice issues. When she's not reporting, you can find her reading or strolling the city with a film camera.

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