Ansonia Mayor James Della Volpe took off his suit jacket, got behind the controls of a backhoe, and toppled the splintery wood of a school playscape Monday in the hopes that a nonprofit group would get the message: Prendergast School needs a new playground.
The school is in the running for a new playground thanks to a Sandy Hook tribute project begun by a New Jersey firefighters union. Called the Sandy Ground Project, the union plans to build 26 playgrounds throughout the northeast in honor of victims of last December’s shooting in Newtown.
Officials on Monday staged a demolition of Prendergast’s old, unsafe “playground” to draw attention to the effort and try to drum up support.
Principal Joe Apicella said he hopes to hear from the Sandy Ground Project’s organizers within a week or so about whether Prendergast is one of the schools chosen.
Click here to read more about the Sandy Ground Project.
Apicella said he heard about the project in a news report and reached out to one of the organizers via e-mail. A couple weeks later officials from the project did a site walk, he said.
The project has already announced nine new playgrounds to as part of the project.
A few dozen officials, children, and parents gathered Monday afternoon to witness the demolition Monday.
Calling Prendergast’s setup — one lone piece of wooden play equipment with a plastic slide — a “playground” to begin with is generous.
“It’d be a really nice playground at your house, but doesn’t really meet the needs of our 700 students here,” Apicella said.
The equipment had to come down no matter what — it was unsafe to play on.
Apicella said a couple kids were sent to the nurse with minor cuts or splinters in the fall, so he recently declared the area off-limits until it could come down.
So the crowd cheered Monday on as Mayor James Della Volpe hopped into a backhoe to topple the structure, with the help of a public works employee standing over his shoulder to point out how to work the controls.
The mayor then hopped out as the playscape was crunched more.
A DPW truck then backed up to the site for the the pieces to be loaded into a public works truck and then carted off.
“This was definitely needed here,” Della Volpe said. “I’m glad this is gone without seeing anyone get hurt.”
The Prendergast School Dad’s Club has been leading an effort to raise money to build a new playground, Apicella said, but had only raised about $8,000 toward a $50,000 estimated total for a new playground.
Jeff Rotteck, a teacher at Ansonia High School who is involved with the Prendergast School Dad’s Club, was at Monday’s demolition with his daughter Samantha, who’s in the second grade.
“This is what the Dad’s Club was working toward,” Rotteck said. “To have this opportunity come along is very exciting news.”
“It’s a really worthwhile cause, and a great opportunity to remember those victims with something so meaningful,” Apicella said. “Something tangible and something that children will have that they can enjoy and they can play with, not that it in any way it eases the suffering of those families, but it keeps the memory alive.”