Riverside Park to host playscape in memory of Newtown victim

New London - Emilie Parker, one of 20 children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, didn't like the sun so much.

At recess, the 6-year-old would stay under the trees in the shade, according to Bill Lavin, a New Jersey firefighter who is heading up a project to build 26 playgrounds in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, to honor the 20 children and six adults who died in the December shooting in Newtown.

"She loved the shade. She told her parents at recess she liked to sit in her shady spot,'' Lavin said Wednesday during a telephone interview.

The New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, of which Lavin is president, has selected Riverside Park for one of the 26 parks.

It will be called "Emilie's Shady Spot," he said.

"When I got out of the car at Riverside Park, I knew this would be Emilie's playground,'' he said.

On Wednesday, the New London Parks & Recreation Commission endorsed the proposal and said it would send letters informing the City Council and the mayor of the project.

"It's a gift. It's free. It's a good thing,'' Lt. Victor Spinnato of the New London Fire Department told the commission. "The fire department is the lead, but this is for the city of New London. It's a team thing. I want everyone involved. And we don't want any politics.''

Sandra Chalk, president of New London Landmarks, which has been working on plans to improve the 18-acre park, said Wednesday the playground will fit in nicely.

"It's fabulous that this is happening now,'' Chalk said. "The things we've talked about can be added to it. It's tremendously exciting and a wonderful memorial to this little girl."

Spinnato, who knows Lavin from volunteering at the Arthur C. Luf Children's Burn Camp in Union, said the playground could be built as soon as next month. He plans to start organizing fundraisers to collect money for playgrounds in other communities.

The New Jersey firefighters helped build playgrounds in Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina. A week after Superstorm Sandy destroyed much of the New Jersey coastline in October, Mississippi returned the favor and sent a trailer with more than 1,000 wrapped Christmas toys.

Firefighters and first responders were distraught after the Newtown shooting, which came on the heels of the storm, Lavin said, and wanted to honor the memories of those killed. The playgrounds are being built by firefighters, police officers, teachers and support staff and volunteers, he said.

The project, which is being done with the approval of the families of those killed, is estimated to cost between $1.8 million and $2 million.

On Wednesday, residents of Ansonia began building a playground for Catherine Hubbard, another one of the 6-year-olds killed at Sandy Hook.

The Catherine Hubbard Playground will be decorated in pink and purple, her favorite colors.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

This photo posted to the Emilie Parker Fund Facebook page shows Emilie Parker. A playground in New London is planned in her honor, part of a three-state project by New Jersey firefighters.
This photo posted to the Emilie Parker Fund Facebook page shows Emilie Parker. A playground in New London is planned in her honor, part of a three-state project by New Jersey firefighters. Emilie Parker Fund/AP Photo
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