The Friends of Brigid Curtin at Westmoor Park raised the money to create an outdoor classroom in honor of the West Hartford girl’s favorite place.
By Ronni Newton
The hot August sun shone brightly, beating down on the grounds of Westmoor Park Monday afternoon, but the sloping roof – with its beautifully-carved exposed timber beams – kept those who celebrated the dedication of the structure pleasantly cool, serving one of they key purposes of the new outdoor classroom constructed to honor the memory of Brigid Curtin.
The crowd in attendance was kept small due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the emotional impact of the day was enormous for all who were part of the ceremony.
The compassion of the West Hartford community, those who have supported Brigid’s parents, Tim Curtin and Jane Murphy, and those who generously donated their time and funds to the Friends of Brigid Curtin at Westmoor Park campaign since it was launched in late 2019, made it possible for the construction of a structure which many said was the absolute perfect way to honor Brigid.
“This project was made possible through the generosity of the community whose character was exemplified by its response to tragedy,” Curtin told those who gathered in the shade, and the campers who sat attentively on the grass outside.
“Brigid loved Westmoor, participated in all the farm and nature programs for many years. This is where she walked, and played, and laughed, and developed a love for animals and of the beauty of nature. Her spirit will forever grace these grounds. May generations of campers find enlightenment from the park programs Brigid loved so much, and fill this structure with laughter and joy,” Curtin said.
Campers and counselors, former counselors, friends of Curtin and Murphy, Westmoor Park Naturalist Doug Jackson and Assistant Naturalist Christy Page, Tom Daly of Milone and MacBroom – who donated his skills to design the structure, Tracy Daly, Chuck Coursey, Town Manager Matt Hart, and Director of Leisure and Social Services Helen Rubino-Turco, were among those in attendance.
According to her parents, Westmoor Park was Brigid’s favorite place in the world, and she had been looking forward to becoming a counselor in training there when she was older.
“It’s amazing to be standing in this beautiful structure today,” Curtin said Monday. He praised the aesthetics of the structure, and the commitment of those who made the project possible, acknowledging many of those in the audience.
“Your friendship and support, and tireless commitment to this project, have sustained us and made it the reality that it is today,” Curtin said.
A multi-functional outdoor classroom had previously been identified by park and town staff as a need for protection from the weather and a space for children to gather before dispersing for Westmoor Park’s many programs.
After Brigid Curtin died tragically at age 12 on Dec. 17, 2018, and Murphy was seriously injured, the community immediately began asking how they could support the family. “Without hesitation our response was: ‘Support Westmoor Park,’” Curtin said at the May 8 groundbreaking.
The fundraising campaign, and the generosity of so many members of the community, in partnership with Westmoor Park, the Department of Leisure Services, and town officials, made the vision for the 24-by-44-foot solid timber outdoor classroom come to fruition. There were approximately 800 donors, who contributed roughly $320,000 – enough so that a fieldstone fireplace and water fountain – which will be hooked up after the pandemic danger has passed – were also able to be made part of the project.
Jackson said since Westmoor Park’s formation, its goal and mission has remained the same and the park operates year round, with very little indoor space.
“The dream was to provide a sheltered space for our campers, where they could either gather to start a program. wrap up a program, or seek shelter no matter what the weather of the day was doing,” he said.
On average 8,000-10,000 students and adults come through Westmoor Park each year, Jackson said. “The outdoor space, we really had a need for it.”
Rubino-Turco said Westmoor Park is not only an agricultural and educational center, “it’s a refuge … it’s an oasis, a green in the midst of an inner-ring suburban community.”
Visitors and campers come for the trails, for the animals, for the birds, for the many programs offered at the park. “And some of them get wet,” Rubino-Turco said. “Brigid Curtin was one of those people who loved Westmoor Park for all these reasons, as an oasis and as a place to interact with nature and all the senses that it offers.”
The outdoor classroom was a fitting way to honor Brigid and the affection that she had for Westmoor Park, Rubino-Turco said.
“Many hands went into this building,” said Rubino-Turco, noting the contributions of Hardwick Post and Beam and T&T Construction, as well as town staff, Coursey, Tom Daly, and many others.
“Westmoor Park is a gem. Today it has gotten better,” Rubino-Turco said.
Hart also gave thanks to those involved with the project, noting the exceptional strength, grace, and courage of Curtin and Murphy.
“This classroom will certainly serve as a tremendous addition to the park … and will strengthen and enhance our very strong commitment to environmental education here at the park,” education about the natural world and sustainability, said Hart.
“This initiative … really represents all that’s good about our community, about West Hartford, that out of this really terrible tragedy our community has come together to grieve, to heal, and to rebuild, to rebuild to enable us to better face the future,” said Hart regarding the classroom that will serve the park’s needs for years to come.
Curtin and Murphy expressed their personal thanks, with Murphy listing many of the key donors from the Friends of Brigid Curtin at Westmoor Park as well as Johnny’s Jog, Brigid’s friends, fellow campers and counselors, Mayor Shari Cantor and the Town Council, town staff, and those involved with the construction project, among others.
“I just want to thank some special donors that really put us over the top of the project and allowed us to be able to do the fireplace and the water fountain, which we knew were dreams of the campers and the staff of this park,” said Murphy.
“As I look around on this beautiful summer day, it’s so wonderful to see so many of the reasons this classroom came to be,” Curtin said.
“The Friends of Brigid Curtin at Westmoor Park Committee is very pleased to officially turn the classroom over to the Town of West Hartford,” he added.
Construction of the outdoor classroom began in May, following a groundbreaking ceremony, and was finished slightly behind schedule in part due to extremely hot weather which prohibited the completion of the roofing work.
The construction barriers were removed on Friday. “We set up the benches and within five minutes there was a group in here,” said Page. “It was so powerful to see them coming in for the first time.”
Zoe Fishman, now a third grade teacher in Massachusetts, grew up in West Hartford and was an instructor and counselor at Westmoor Park, working with Brigid for about eight summers, she recalled. Fishman, along with several others who had been Brigid’s counselors, returned Monday for the opening of the outdoor classroom.
“She would have loved this space,” Fishman said. “This is a perfect way to memorialize her and remember her. It’s so powerful.”
Fishman said she was happy to come back to Westmoor, to remember Brigid and the joy she brought to the entire camp.
“This is a bright shining light in the midst of all that’s been happening,” Fishman said.
David Girard, who along with Fishman was Brigid’s counselor and instructor for many years, is now the assistant director of the camp that is being held at Westmoor this summer.
“This space is everything Brigid really was,” Girard said. It’s a place where kids can learn the things that make Westmoor Park special, and that’s what Brigid would have wanted, he said.
“It’s magical, and full of memories,” said Girard.
The space was officially used for camp sign-in Monday morning, and Girard said that including this week, there are three more weeks of camp at Westmoor Park which will put the outdoor classroom to good use.
Oliver Bunnell said Brigid was about 6 years old when he first worked with her as a summer counselor at Westmoor Park.
“Honestly, it’s the perfect way to memorialize the person that she was,” he said of the outdoor classroom.
Brigid always listened intently to instructions, and really understood what Westmoor is all about. The new space will provide a venue where those lessons can continue to be passed on.
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