Westport first responders and teachers will build a playground at Long Lots Elementary School to honor the life of Dylan Hockley, one of the 26 victims of the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, after the Board of Education unanimously approved Monday a $117,000 donation from a New Jersey firefighters' nonprofit to fund the project.
The playground will be built through "The Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play" initiative sponsored by the New Jersey State Firefighters' Mutual Benevolent Association's, which aims to build 26 playgrounds in Superstorm Sandy-affected areas in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey to honor the 20 students and six educators killed in the Newtown tragedy.
Deputy Fire Chief Bob Kepchar told the school board that the Hockley family chose Westport for Dylan's playground. Dylan was 6 years old when he was killed in the school shootings.
"They have family ties to Westport, and they wanted a place where their older son could play on the playground without having to pay a fee," Kepchar told the board Monday. "They decided Westport was the place they wanted to go." Long Lots was chosen, after it was identified as a site that needs a new playground. The play area will be customized to represent Dylan's life, Kepchar said.
The playground will likely be built within the next two months, according to Kepchar. Westport firefighters are leading the project. Police, emergency-medical-services personnel, teachers, as well as Hockley family members "if they so choose," will join them in constructing the apparatus, Kepchar said. Dylan's older brother, Jake, will serve as the project's foreman, Kepchar said.
The first Sandy Ground playground opened in Sea Bright, N.J. It honors teacher Anne Marie Murphy. A playground dedicated to student Jack Pinto in Union Beach, N.J., has a ribbon-cutting scheduled Saturday.
Playgrounds are also planned in Stratford, New London, Mystic, Rockaway, N.Y., Veteran's Park Highlands, N.J., Normandy Beach, N.J., Ocean City, N.J. to honor other victims.
To recognize the gift, Westport firefighters will launch a fundraising campaign to "pay it forward" for another Sandy Ground playground, Kepchar added.
"We have a great appreciation for the Hockleys for selecting us," said Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney. "There will certainly be many students who will benefit from this."
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