By James Lomuscio
Westport Deputy Fire Chief Robert Kepchar addresses the Boad of Education tonight. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
With the unanimous approval of the Westport Board of Education tonight, the playground behind the Long Lots Elementary School will be rebuilt and dedicated to Dylan Hockley, a 6-year old who was one of the 26 murdered in the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown.
The board agreed to accept to $117,000 gift from the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association which is raisning funds to build 26 playgrounds throughout the tri-state area, each one dedicated to one of the victims.
“This will be the fourth,” said Deputy Fire Chief Robert Kepchar, who presented the proposed “no strings attached” gift to the school board.
Kepchar said that one such playground has already been completed in Sea Bright, N.J., and others are underway in Union Beach, N.J. and in Staten Island, N.Y.
Westport was chosen for the “Sandy Hook Where Angels Play Project,” Kepchar said, because “the Hockley’s have relatives here and wanted their older son to play on it.”
Kepchar said that when Bill Lavin, president of the New Jersey firefighters association contacted him, he got in touch with First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, Assistant Schools Superintendent of Business Nancy Harris and Parks and Recreation Director Stuart McCarthy.
“We looked at different playgrounds, and the back of Long Lots needed to be replaced,” he said.
“It will come with no strings attached,” Kepchar told the board about the project which comes no cost to the town. “We will build it with 26 firefighters, EMS, police and teachers, and Dylan’s older brother, whose name I don’t have but will get, will be the foreman.”
“This is a very exciting project,” Harris said prior to the board’s vote.
Meanwhile, the Westport Fire Department will be holding fundraisers “to pay it forward” to build another playground in another community. Kepchar said that a fifth one is planned in Fairfield and a sixth in Stratford.