Many voices said rebuild, knock down, memorialize, during the second “Community Conversation” on what to do with the Sandy Hook School building following the events of 12/14. Others said they want to see the school building in use again.
The session took place Friday, January 18, in the Newtown High School’s Lecture Hall.
As First Selectman Pat Llodra said near the end of the event, there are many differing opinions and, as the process moves forward, “compromise will be the name of the game.”
“This is very difficult,” Mrs Llodra said at the start of Friday night’s conversation.
The Sandy Hook School facility was the one agenda item for the night. Mrs Llodra noted members of local boards and commissions were present, and she said she is confident that state and federal officials will also help when the town decides what is the best solution.
Two microphones were set up in for residents to take turns sharing their thoughts on what should be done with the Sandy Hook School building.
Multiple residents called for a memorial to be built on the school’s location.
Bob Schmidt, a licensed professional counselor and a resident, said if the students and staff enter the facility in the future it could bring back memories from 12/14.
Adele Unger was the first, but not the last, to say the heart of Sandy Hook School is its staff.
“The spirit they bring will be in any four walls our children go back to,” said Ms Unger.
Multiple speakers asked for Sandy Hook School to be returned to Sandy Hook. Some residents specified returning the school to the area its facility is on now, and other residents said any area in Sandy Hook would be home.
One couple asked for Sandy Hook School to be remodeled, because they do not want the town to lose its school too.
Another resident said he, too, would like to see the school remain where it is, with part of the school taken down to make the staff and students feel safer. He also said he wants to see laughter in the facility again.
Todd Keeping, a Sandy Hook resident and a Monroe police officer, said he requested to be stationed at Sandy Hook School after the shootings.
“I had to be there,” said Mr Keeping.
Two days after the shootings Mr Keeping said he came to Newtown and was helping with patrol functions. He went to the building that day, he said.
“You cannot ask anybody to go back in there,” said Mr Keeping.
At Monroe’s Chalk Hill Middle School, Mr Keeping said, the students are smiling and happy, but Sandy Hook School, he said, is not what it was.
Board of Education Chair Debbie Leidlein spoke to reassure residents that her board has every intention of keeping the Sandy Hook School community together. The board unanimously voted at its meeting on Tuesday, January 15, to back a resolution that specified just that.
“We will do everything in our power to make sure you stay together,” said Ms Leidlein.
The most widely stated opinion during Friday’s Community Conversation was to rebuild Sandy Hook School.
MaryAnn Jacob, who said she spoke independently from her role on the Legislative Council, explained she is a former Parent Teacher Association chair from Sandy Hook School and was at the school the morning of December 14.
“We are Sandy Hook School. We choose love,” said Ms Jacob.
Ms Jacob said she is torn, and did not share her feelings on the future of the Sandy Hook School building. While the Sandy Hook School community wants to be home, Ms Jacob said, it also wants to stay together. Wherever Sandy Hook School finds itself in the future, Ms Jacob said she will be there for the students.
Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (CT-5) was also in attendance for the evening. The day after the shootings, Rep Esty said, she received a phone call from Vice President Joseph Biden. She recently asked him, she said Friday night, if he meant what he said that day: He would help make what Sandy Hook wants a reality. Rep Esty said the Vice President responded saying she had his word.
“You should decide what you need,” said Rep Esty, “and our job as elected officials is to make sure we make it happen as quickly as we can.”
Newtown State Representatives Dan Carter, DebraLee Hovey, and Mitch Bolinsky were also in attendance at the event.
Mrs Llodra said the solution about what to do with the school building must come from Newtown.
The first selectman also asked for all those who wish to share their thoughts on the school building’s future to contact her by calling 203-270-4201 or e-mailing Pat.Llodra@newtown-ct.gov.
She reminded the assembled residents it takes a long time to have a school built, and shared her personal view that Sandy Hook School will be housed at Chalk Hill Middle School through next year.
To the residents who shared thoughts on other locations where a new Sandy Hook School could be built, Mrs Llodra said the only area large enough for an elementary school is the school’s location on Dickinson Drive. She also said Fairfield Hills could provide space for a school, but that it would not be within the school’s district if that were to happen.
Mrs Llodra asked for patience and for everyone to be respectful of the multiple points of view. She also said she has great confidence in the community.