“Sandy Hook School — 1956 — Visitors Welcome.” The white sign is now iconic, having appeared in countless news video clips and photographs following 12/14. The date, 1956, was the year the school opened, but its story began a couple of years earlier.
It was January 28, 1954, when the Board of Education conducted a special meeting to address the town’s rising population. Reports predicted such an overwhelming increase of school-aged children that another educational facility would be needed.
This was long before there was a Reed Intermediate School, middle school, or even the multiple elementary schools. The town had two public schools. Hawley School educated first through sixth graders and Newtown High School was for seventh to twelfth graders.
Hawley School had 19 classrooms, all of which were filled beyond the recommended capacity. The problem became undeniable when a survey based on the school census figures predicted the town would need 30 classrooms for the 1958-59 school year, which was only a few years away.
The Board of Education believed that when too many students occupied a classroom the quality of education would suffer. To alleviate the overcrowding of students at the Hawley School, it decided to reopen a school in Sandy Hook for the 1954-55 school year. There was a two-room schoolhouse on Riverside Road in Sandy Hook that had not been in use since 1949, when Hawley School was expanded to accommodate all the students grades first through sixth.
According to Educating Newtown’s Children: A History of Its Schools by Town Historian Daniel Cruson, that small original version of Sandy Hook School was a located across the street from the current school site.
The two-room incarnation of the Sandy Hook School was able to accommodate just the third graders. Opening the small building was not meant as a permanent solution, but a temporary fix to buy some time. After the 1954-55 school year the building was no longer in use as a school and it was sold in December 1958 to Harold E. Jackson for $5,000.
It was in November 1954 when the Board of Education voted to create the new Elementary School Building Committee, consisting of seven members. The committee decided to use the recently purchased 12 acres of land from John Stefanko to make the new and improved Sandy Hook School.
The committee believed that building a new school in Sandy Hook would be the solution to addressing the growth of population and shortage of school rooms. Their goal was to serve about 500 pupils.
In January 1955 the Elementary School Building Committee conducted its first report to announce plans for the new construction. The group looked at 14 recently built schools for research and interviewed 15 potential architectural organizations.
The architect chosen to build the new Sandy Hook School was Louis E. Jallade from New York City. The town concluded Mr Jallade was the right choice because he specialized specifically in school designs. It was also felt it was beneficial that his firm combined general construction, electrical, heating and ventilating, and coordinated trades, made inspections, accepted responsibility, and wrote weekly reports on problems/progress.
The outline of the school that was chosen was a single-story, L-shaped building. It would include 16 classrooms, a general purpose/play room, and a cafeteria/auditorium. The project would cost $650,000.
In May 1956, the Board of Education announced Leo E. Garrepy of Norwalk would be appointed principal of the new elementary school in Sandy Hook. His credentials included being the supervising principal of the Center School in Norfolk, serving two years in the US Army during World War II, having a bachelor in science education from State Teachers College in Fitchburg, Mass., and serving on the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Elementary Principals Association.
The 1956-57 school year began five days late due to the continuing construction of the new Sandy Hook School. The Board of Education announced the postponement of the start of all schools because only ten out of the 16 classrooms were useable for students at the Sandy Hook School. The extra days allowed for more progress to be made on the building.
The school’s west wing was what needed the most work at the beginning of the school year. It was designed to house the cafeteria, playroom and other rooms, while the left wing (what most today would perceive as the front of the school) held ten classrooms.
Still, even after the delayed opening for the 1956-57 school year, the building was still not complete. As a result, six of the Sandy Hook School classes were transferred to Hawley and the high school until more rooms became available.
That year Superintendent Carl A. LeGrow announced the town’s student enrollment. According to Mr LeGrow, 572 pupils were attending Hawley School, 369 pupils were attending the Newtown High School, and 447 pupils were attending the new Sandy Hook School — a record high of 1,388 students enrolled in the Newtown School system.
The new Sandy Hook School was such a focus of interest among the town residents that when open houses were conducted in November 1956, 400 to 500 people visited the new school. Of that number, according to a report by Mr Garrepy, only 350 were parents of students.
In April 1957, the students of Sandy Hook School planted 400 white pine trees along Dickinson Drive (the entrance to the school). Each student received a tree to plant.
Shortly after, the Sandy Hook School conducted a dedication ceremony where the Elementary School Building Committee turned the school over to the Town of Newtown.