Eight-year-old Frederick Hubbard had no qualms about missing school in Newtown Wednesday — he went to another school in Ansonia ready to work.
Frederick, the older brother of Sandy Hook Elementary School victim Catherine Hubbard, was on hand at Ansonia’s Prendergast School with his mother to see a new playground built by a group of New Jersey firefighters in Catherine’s name.
Named foreman of the project, Frederick was quick to don a tool belt and eyeball a group of workers jokingly. “What are you doing with your hands in your pockets?” he said. “Let’s get to work.”
The group then began off-loading playground parts from a truck with a view to getting the playground completed Wednesday.
The new playground is the third of 26 to be built in the memories of the victims of the tragic shooting last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Called the “Sandy Ground Project,” the effort was begun by a New Jersey firefighters union.
Click here to read more background about the project.
Bill Lavin, the president of the union, the New Jersey State Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association, introduced Frederick Hubbard to school officials as firefighters got to work building the new playground while dozens of parents and officials looked on.
Click the play button above to watch.
The old “playground” at the school — a lone piece of wooden play equipment with a plastic slide — was demolished last month.
At the time, Prendergast Principal Joe Apicella said his school was a finalist to be considered for the project.
Little did he know his assistant principal, Sherrod McNeill, already knew it was a sure thing — Lavin said an e-mail Apicella had sent him asking to be part of the project had sealed the deal.
Apicella learned of the new playground Wednesday morning.
“You left me hanging, Bill!” he said playfully to Lavin.
“Just amazing. We’re really honored at Prendergast School to honor Catherine in such a great way,” Apicella told Lavin. “It’s hard to explain how appreciative we are.”
“What a great tribute to Catherine and her family to know that 700 children, as well as the community, can enjoy this,” Apicella said later.
“This is a blessing for us to do it,” Lavin said.
Catherine Hubbard’s mother, Jennifer, was happy to see the new playground taking shape “around the corner.”
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The family is also involved in a project to build an animal sanctuary in Newtown in Catherine’s name.
“We made a decision that, for us, remembering Catherine is about remembering her innocence,” Jennifer Hubbard said Wednesday. “We want to make sure her legacy is of love and of innocence.”
Superintendent Carol Merlone called the day “bittersweet.”
“It’s great for Ansonia children, but our hearts go out to all the victims, as well as Catherine’s family,” Merlone said, adding she was particularly touched when several white and green balloons were released during Wednesday’s ceremony. “It exemplified Catherine. Her spirit will touch many people.”
Mayor James Della Volpe said the city was “truly honored” to be chosen by the firefighters.
“The boys and girls of Prendergast, and the city, will use it with pride knowing it’s a tribute to one of the children lost at Sandy Hook,” he said.