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Thursday, Dec 13, 2018
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Parkland dad to honor daughter’s life away from cemetery: He’s building a playground

Andrew Pollack can no longer bear going to the cemetery to visit his teenage daughter’s grave.

Eighteen-year-old Meadow Jade, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, was killed by confessed school shooter Nikolas Cruz last month, shot nine times on the third floor of the 1200 building.

Now her father goes to the sprawling Star of David Cemetery in North Lauderdale to see the girl he called his princess and to seek respite from his new role as a crusader for school safety.

But Pollack doesn’t want to think of Meadow, his only daughter, in the context of a graveyard. He wants to remember her as a smiling kid with a fulfilling life. So he’s planning the construction of a different kind of memorial: a playground.

"I had a vision that came to me about a playground," Pollack told the Miami Herald. "Instead of going to honor my daughter at a cemetery I had a vision of building the most spectacular playground in Broward County in honor of my daughter’s name."

Pollack, who spent much of last week convincing lawmakers in Tallahassee to pass a school safety bill, said he imagines sitting on a bench at the playground and watching happy kids playing. In that way, he said, Meadow’s memory will live on.

He has convinced several companies to help pay for "Meadow’s Garden and Playground" on a roughly 10,000-square-foot plot of land on North University Drive donated by Chabad of Coral Springs. He’s raised about $92,000 of the $1 million he believes the playground will cost to build. Pollack is accepting donations at RememberMeadow.com.

"I won’t settle for anything that’s not amazing," Pollack said. The playground will be public and will include state-of-the-art water features for the hot South Florida summers. Details are still being finalized.

To raise money, Palm Beach Harley-Davidson will be hosting a motorcycle ride in Meadow’s honor from its shop in West Palm Beach to Pollack’s Coral Springs home, Pollack said.

Rabbi Avraham Friedman, the executive director of Chabad of Coral Springs and a longtime friend of Pollack’s, said the plans for the playground and garden are being "drawn up as we speak," but he said it will be a welcome presence in the Parkland and Coral Springs communities.

"By having a playground here in Meadow’s honor, it could really bring some healing and comfort to the community," Friedman said. The land is currently vacant.

Pollack jumped into the rekindled discussion on gun control and school safety about a week after the Valentine’s Day shooting, when CNN aired a live town hall event largely focused on the topic of gun control and the lobbying efforts of the National Rifle Association.

He has countered the message of student activists from the #NeverAgain movement, who largely want stricter gun laws in place.

The Long Island native and longtime lacrosse coach at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale said he believes hardening schools, funding mental health programs and giving police departments the latitude to take away the guns of troubled individuals would do more to prevent future school shootings than gun control, and that those kinds of measures would be easier to gain bipartisan support than gun restrictions like a ban on AR-15s, the weapon Cruz used.

He won’t be marching in Washington next week with student activists such as Emma González or Cameron Kasky because he says their movement takes away momentum from his own political game plan. Instead, he’ll be in Washington on March 23 to speak with lawmakers about his plan to extend Florida’s school safety bill — or something similar — nationwide.

"People need to listen to these kids, but I want them to be produtive and focus on something that is achievable," he said. "Their message should be school safety right now. Come together, one nation, work on getting our schools safe."

Pollack recalls where he was on Feb. 14, bike-riding with his wife, Julie, in the Everglades, when he heard about the shootings. His son texted him, and he raced to his truck and then to Parkland.

The news still hasn’t sunk in, he says. He doesn’t sleep much anymore. But his fighter’s spirit — he’s got "New York blood" and a "lion’s heart," he says — won’t let him quit until he does all that he can do to ensure no other parent goes through his pain again.

"Someone murders your kid, you get tougher," he said. "I was tough before. Now I’m tougher."

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