The governor and local legislators set the stage this week for Newtown’s October 5 referendum, when local voters will be asked to authorize the expenditure of $49.25 million for the demolition of the existing Sandy Hook School and the design and construction of a new school on the same, but reconfigured, site off Riverside Road. Governor Dannel P. Malloy said that the State Bond Commission will approve the necessary financing, following through on promises state officials made in the wake of the 12/14 shootings at the Sandy Hook School to make Newtown whole financially in creating a new facility for more than 400 K–4 school children displaced by the tragedy.
The state’s extraordinary commitment to Newtown transcended politics in Hartford, and the governor was joined by Newtown’s four legislative representatives this week in hailing this milestone in Sandy Hook’s recovery, and State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney expressed a hope that federal funds will be forthcoming to assist the state in paying for the school. As the bureaucratic gears of Hartford engaged and moved forward on a new school for Sandy Hook with its attendant chorus of official hurrahs, it was easy to overlook one small detail: the people of Newtown still have to give their approval to the project.
Last month, both the Board of Finance and the Legislative Council approved the expenditure of $45.25 million with assurances that the State Bonding Commission would come up with the money. Friday’s approval now clears the way for the town to vote. Local officials know better, however, than to start passing out rubber stamps to local voters, who are traditionally very careful about spending money, even when it will not directly affect their property tax bills. With that in mind, town and school officials commenced a schedule of extended office hours and meetings expressly for answering townspeople’s questions about the project and to hear their comments and concerns. (See story.) We hope they also will remind voters that without local approval, there will be no elementary school in Sandy Hook.
So much of the discussion over the disposition of Sandy Hook School has looked back to 12/14 for essential guidance from the lessons of that tragic day. Authorizing the construction of a new school on October 5 will bring to the entire community a welcome opportunity to turn our attention to the future, reclaiming for the children of Sandy Hook who walked away from trauma last December a place that is more about tomorrow than yesterday. To make that transition, an informed electorate needs to show up in great numbers at the polls on October 5 to approve funding for the new Sandy Hook School.