ANSONIA, Conn. — Wednesday morning's bright sunshine and blue sky painted a perfect backdrop for the start of construction of a playground at John G. Prendergast School in memory of Catherine Violet Hubbard.
Catherine, 6, was one of the 20 first-graders killed Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Six educators also were gunned down.
The playground is one of 26 that will be built in memory of the victims through the efforts of Bill Lavin, president of the New Jersey Firefighters' Mutual Benevolent Association. He is being assisted by fellow firefighters, construction workers, family and friends.
The playgrounds will be built in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
Catherine's older brother, Frederick Hubbard, 8, was there and donned a hard hat; he was given the title of job foreman.
"It's going to be really fun,' he said. "I love to build.'
His mother, Jennifer Hubbard, said the playground work was a wonderful project for Frederick.
"He's doing something for his sister,' she said.
Jennifer Hubbard said Lavin called her last winter about the idea.
"We decided we would do things that would honor all the kids,' she said. Prendergast has the distinction of getting the first playground built in Connecticut. Others are planned in Mystic and Westport.
Kathy Lavin, Bill Lavin's wife, said the Sandy Ground Project was her husband's idea after Hurricane Sandy ravaged towns on the New Jersey Shoreline in October. The initiative was expanded after the Dec. 14 shootings.
Kathy Lavin said so far playgrounds have been built in Seabright and Union Beach, both in New Jersey.
Kathy Lavin said they anticipate the costs to total $3 million. Donations may be sent to the NJFMBA Foundation, 1447 Campbell St., Rahway, N.J. 07065.
"It's a blessed project, and we're honored to be here to do this wonderful work,' Kathy Lavin said.
At the start of construction, 26 green and white balloons, one for each of the shooting victims, were released. One white balloon got stuck in a tree. That one, several observers said, symbolized Catherine Hubbard.
Wednesday's construction was a surprise for Principal Joseph Apicella. Teachers, staff, city officials and even Assistant Principal Sherrod McNeill were able to keep it a secret.
"It's just great to see all these guys working. It's just outstanding,' Apicella said.
Apicella had emailed the Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play several months ago to request Prendergast be considered.
The school's unsafe playscape was demolished April 15. At that time, Apicella said Prendergast was "a finalist' to receive a playground.
Mayor James Della Volpe said, "It's a tremendous honor for the city, and especially for Prendergast School. I'd like to thank the firefighters' union for their donation.'
He also thanked Apicella for contacting the firefighters' union to make the case for Prendergast's need.
Mothers of three other victims were present to watch the playground work: JoAnn Bacon, Tricia Pinto and Lynn McDonnell.
On Saturday, a groundbreaking is planned in Union Beach, N.J., for a playground in memory of Jack Pinto, 6, Tricia Pinto's son.
On Wednesday afternoon, at an assembly for the Prendergast students, Bill Lavin credited Apicella's "love, admiration and stick-tuitiveness' in his efforts to get the playground.
After the assembly, Frederick was given the microphone.
"Stop standing around and get back to work,' he told firefighters and employees of Giordano Contracting, LLC, of New Jersey.