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Sandy Hook School Referendum Passes By Wide Margin

A rare Saturday referendum drew a higher than average number of voters to the polls at Newtown Middle School handily passing a referendum by about a 90 percent margin, and authorizing the town to move forward with the state-funded demolition and the rebuilding of Sandy Hook School.

Residents who turned out between 6 am and 8 pm Saturday cast a total of 5,062 ballots - 4,504 in favor versus 558 votes to reject the funding.

A small group of primarily town officials gathered to hear the results, and several let out shouts when Assistant Registrar of Voters Carol Mattegat read the affirmative vote count.

Most of the officials who spoke to The Newtown Bee after the numbers were confirmed shared the same sentiment.

"I thought it was going to pass by at least 80 percent, but it's more like 90 percent. It's time to bring our children home," said Selectman James Gaston Sr., echoing the words of several others including Board of Education Chair Debbie Leidlein, and Vice Chair Laura Roche.

"This was another hurdle overcome," Ms Leidlein said. "Now we're ready. We've got great plans moving forward to bring our families home."

For Ms Roche, who was part of the task force that recommended rebuilding a new school on the same site as the current facility, the lop-sided outcome of Saturday's vote was validation that the panel made the right decision.

"This vote is also a big thank you to the state of Connecticut," she added, referring to the $49.25 million grant that was approved by the state Bond Commission eight days earlier.

Legislative Council Chairman Jeff Capeci said he was confident the vote would pass.

"I feel very good about it, very happy," Mr Capeci said. "This is good news for Newtown."

Council Vice-Chair Mary Ann Jacob spent several hours earlier in the day holding a "Vote Yes" sign at the intersection of Glen and Riverside Roads just a few hundred yards from the now vacant school facility.

"I'm grateful the community has supported this (vote for) Sandy Hook School, and our efforts to bring the children back home," Ms Jacob said. "It's important and exciting."

During the past two weeks, and especially in the past few days, advocacy for the referendum spread across town and the social networks residents tap into, with hundreds of residents calling for a yes vote on various Facebook pages, including The Newtown Bee's.

At the same time, a small but vocal contingent of opposition made its collective views known regarding why the town should not accept the state grant. A crop of "Vote No" lawn signs also appeared around town the day before the vote.

Those posting on social networks and submitting letters to the newspaper offered various reasons why the town should not accept funding, ranging from concerns about dwindling enrollment forcing the town to close another school, to those who wanted to see the original Sandy Hook facility re-purposed for other municipal uses.

Anticipating the referendum would pass, town officials already filed environmental paperwork with the state to move forward with asbestos abatement at the former school, which will dovetail with demolition crews who could be on site by the last week in October.

Officials want to see the former school building razed well before the first anniversary of the 12/14 tragedy. The projected opening for the new school is September 2016, although local officials concede the building could be ready by January 2016 if the project schedule runs smoothly.

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