Work begins on playground tribute to Sandy Hook victim

Mystic - A crew of volunteers poured the foundation this weekend for the playground that will be built during the next seven days as a tribute to Grace McDonnell, 7, one of the 20 first-graders who died in the December 2012 shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

McDonnell's parents, Lynn and Chris McDonnell, chose Williams Beach behind the Mystic YMCA as the site for a playground celebrating their daughter's life because she loved the beach and water. Also, it was in Mystic that Chris McDonnell proposed to his wife.

The concrete was still drying on Easter Sunday, and someone had neatly carved a peace sign, one of Grace's favorite things, into the corner of the foundation near the Mystic River. Volunteers plan to cover the cement with a soft play surface, then install playground equipment.

The playground will be the 19th built as part of the "Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play," started by a group of firefighters. The New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association began building playgrounds after Hurricane Katrina, then organized again after Sandy Hook to build 26 more playgrounds in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey to remember the 20 children and six adults killed in the shootings.

The group built a playground called Emilie's Shady Spot to honor victim Emilie Parker at Riverside Park in New London. It opened in November.

Each playground is designed to reflect the personality of the one it honors. The park in Mystic will incorporate some of Grace's artwork.

Dave Bishop lives a couple of houses away from the YMCA and walked to the park Saturday when he saw the cement trucks.

"Naturally, it's a wonderful thing to memorialize the kids that were lost and not only that, but it's a great asset to all the communities where they are building these," he said.

Bishop also was impressed by the volunteerism. Shawn Richardson volunteered his time from C&R Concrete in Torrington and Troy Fleming led a volunteer crew from High Rise Concrete in Bristol, Bishop said.

d.straszheim@theday.com

If you go

A ribbon-cutting for the playground built behind the Mystic YMCA in tribute to Newtown school shooting victim Grace McDonnell will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at the playground.

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