Sandy Hook School to be Demolished

NEWTOWN, Conn. — The Sandy Hook Task Force unanimously voted to tear down the current school building and rebuild at the same site where 26 children and staff were shot and killed last December.
In the fifth and final meeting of the 28-member committee of elected officials, the task force made the recommendation to the Newtown Board of Education to demolish Sandy Hook Elementary School, which has been closed since the tragedies of Dec. 14, 2012, and construct a new school building that could cost $57 million. However, a town vote will ultimately decide how to proceed with the building and where Sandy Hook students will continue their education.
“It looks like we’re just talking about sites and building, but really what we’re talking about is working through the trauma the community has faced,” said Rich Harwood, mediator of the discussion.
Emotions ran high in the May 10 meeting. Teachers and parents of Sandy Hook acknowledged that, though the heartbreak would never fully recede, the community was responsible for moving forward and banding together to bring new hope to Sandy Hook students.
The team of community leaders evaluated about 40 options, including potential plans to renovate the existing building and build at a new site, but the task force opted to start anew without forgetting the positive aspects of Sandy Hook’s history.
“For many, many years, this place was used as a place for learning, happiness and growth, and I would hate for that land to become any different than what its intended use was for originally,” said Debbie Leidlein, Newtown Board of Education chair and member of the Sandy Hook task force. “I’d like to see it return to that function in our community.”
The task force acknowledged that whatever decision they made, someone would be unhappy. Peter Barresi, father of a first grader at Sandy Hook, had hoped the committee would maintain the Sandy Hook building.
“We didn’t just lose 20 children and six adults,” he said. “We’re letting him [the gunman] take the building, too.”
The school’s 430 students are currently attending class at the former Chalk Hill Middle School in neighboring Monroe, Conn. Renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School, the once-vacant building has been used as the interim school since the shooting.
Though aggravated that the original building may be demolished, Barresi also said continuing to hold instruction at Chalk Hill is not an adequate option for elementary education.
“I can’t help but think the most important people in this entire decision is our children and that they are sitting in a school that’s not designed for them,” he said. “That has to be inhibiting their learning.”
On the day of the shooting, Newtown resident and former psychologist Gene Rosen found six young children who had witnessed the violence on his lawn. But rather than retell the brutality of that December morning, Rosen spoke of another Sandy Hook memory.
Earlier in 2012, Rosen had walked to the school with his grandson. He snapped a picture of a bluebird perched on a Sandy Hook tree. Now, he said, every time he is thanked for his compassion, he gives that person a picture of the bluebird. To Rosen, the rebuilding of Sandy Hook is a symbol of reviving hope once lost.
“I want to reciprocate and so I give this bluebird that represents hope and resilience and strength. The return of the bluebirds,” he said. “I bring that up because I think this has been a mostly positive, wonderful gathering of people and gathering of spirit.”
Connecticut Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal as well as Representative Elizabeth Etsy have called on Congress to use federal funds to help build the new elementary school. With the opportunity to supply a new school to the community of Newtown, Murphy and Blumenthal said, senators now have a chance to redeem themselves after failing to pass a bill that would expand background checks to gun purchasers.
The bill is an opportunity for lawmakers to “put their money where their mouth is,” Blumenthal said in a statement, adding that legislators of both political parties have asked what they can do to help the situation in Newtown.
“For those of my colleagues who asked me this but failed to vote for common sense gun violence prevention measures in March, this bill gives them the opportunity to make a down payment – not a full payment – but a down payment on their obligation to respond adequately to the Sandy Hook horror,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “Students at Sandy Hook Elementary School should not be forced to relive this tragedy in a schoolhouse marred with slaughter.”
The legislation proposed would allow schools to apply for funding through the expansion of the School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) grant for construction on sites that have witnessed mass tragedies. SERV grants are issued to communities after traumatic violent events and funds are often used for mental health counseling.
“This tragedy has touched people on a national scale, and as a nation, we have an obligation to make sure that this community and that the children who attend Sandy Hook Elementary have the support they need to heal and continue their lives,” Blumenthal said in a statement.
For the community of Newtown, the remembrance of love at the Sandy Hook site will ultimately prevail over its tragedies.
“I think our message should be at that site that love will win over fear,” said Steve Uhde, father to a Sandy Hook second grader. “We can make that site love again.”