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Volunteers from military base build bridge at Newbury School

HOWELL –  Since the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, pupils at the Newbury School have been able to enjoy a bridge that was built over the drainage area that connects the school’s soccer field to a playground.

On Sept. 27, staff members and students at the school held a dedication ceremony for the Liberty Memorial Bridge, which was constructed by volunteers from nearby Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, led by Petty Officer MA1 Ernesto Cortez.

For decades, the drainage area around the soccer field was known to flood, causing a swampy moat to form around the field. Jim Quinn has been has been trying to find a solution to the problem since he became principal in 2002.

He suggested trying to solve the problem as part of an Eagle Scout project, but was told the services of an engineer and an architect would be needed.

“It just became an expense and we could not do it,” Quinn said.

Through a partnership with Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst that has developed over 15 years, the bridge project suddenly took on a new life last spring.

Quinn had established a connection with the base for events such as Read Across America, Veterans Day and Flag Day.

At a Flag Day celebration in June, Cortez told Quinn he would be departing for an assignment overseas in the fall and asked if there was anything he could do for the school before shipping out.

“I just laughed and said, ‘We always wanted a bridge’ and he said ‘done’ and he got his engineers and all his guys from the base to come in and do it for us. It was fantastic. The township was very pleased we had the military doing it and they did not have any problem with it,” Quinn said.

After stepping up to the plate, Cortez put out the word to his fellow servicemen and servicewomen and volunteers came forward. Cortez coordinated the project, solicited donations of materials from Home Depot and began construction of the bridge in August.

The crew worked day and night for three days to complete the construction. The volunteer crew included Cortez, Department of the Air Force Patrol Sgt. Ted Hines, Department of the Air Force Patrol Cpl. John Walaszek, MA1 Christopher Doubet, LS2 Alaffia Fox, MA2 Joseph Sandefer, MA2 Jacob Beal, MA3 Ebony Dunlap, AZ3 Ashley Weeks, 87TH SFS Senior Airman Alexia Reeves and 87TH SFS Senior Airman Eugenia Duce.

A plaque that has been placed on the bridge states, “The Liberty Memorial Bridge is dedicated to the Veterans and Active Duty Men and Women of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst for their dedication and service to our Country and Community – with Special Thanks to MA1 Ernesto Cortez.”

“At one point during the construction, they had their truck out there with the lights on and they were using the truck’s lights to work at night because it was their off-hours and they were able to volunteer then,” Quinn said.

He said Home Depot in Lakehurst donated all the materials for the bridge.

Quinn said he is happy with the result, adding, “I could drive my truck over it because it is so well built. It is really nice. The kids are out there, when they go to recess I always see a group of kids sitting on the bridge just having a good time.”

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