An inner-city elementary school in Surrey, B.C., has become the latest victim of Metro Vancouver metal thieves after crooks dismantled part of a children's playground.

Angelo Morelli, principal of K.B. Woodward Elementary, said it was the students who noticed the playground equipment was missing during recess last Wednesday.

"The kids were gathered around [the playground] while I was doing supervision," Morelli said. "They said ‘Where's our slide rail? Where's it gone?'"

"They said, ‘They stole it. They stole our playground.'"

One 16-foot bar was removed and a similar bar on the opposite side of the school was unbolted but left behind. Morelli estimates the stolen aluminum could be worth thousands of dollars.

The principal, who just started at K.B. Woodward in September, urged the thieves to do the right thing and return the equipment immediately.

"If you have that piece of metal, just leave it here overnight," Morelli pleaded. "Bring back our playground."

The Surrey School District has offered to pay to replace the equipment, which is expected to cost $5,000 including labour -- money that would normally be going directly into the classroom.

It's estimated that metal theft costs taxpayers and companies millions of dollars in damage annually. In Monday's throne speech, the B.C. government promised the problem will be "targeted through new legislation regulating scrap metal sales."

Solicitor General Shirley Bond told CTV News Wednesday the province is working as fast as possible to address metal theft, but could not elaborate on the details.

Bond first promised to deal with the issue of metal theft once and for all in May.

Terry McHale, co-owner of West Coast Metal Recycling in Langley, said thieves thrive in Metro Vancouver because some companies aren't selective with their clientele.

To avoid dealing with metal thieves, McHale's company banned walk-up traffic in 2006.

"You can't come in here on foot, on rollerblades, on a bicycle, pushing a shopping cart, nothing like that," McHale said. "I have enough business doing it the right way. I don't need to deal with these people."

And catching crooks isn't always so simple, McHale said. Sophisticated thieves will chop up metal and mangle it before bringing it in so the theft becomes less apparent.

Several cities have bylaws requiring metal recyclers to keep records of the individuals they purchase from, but in some cases selling stolen metals can be as easy as driving to a neighbouring municipality.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Brent Shearer