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Year In Review: Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial An Ongoing Quest



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By Nancy K. Crevier & Kendra Bobowick

As the new year began in 2016, the quest for a site for a permanent memorial to 12/14 continued. The Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission (SHPMC) determined criteria for a memorial site based on community surveys and input from families affected by the tragedy of 12/14 and first responders.

In February, Town Attorney David L. Grogins clarified a statement he had made at a meeting of the SHPMC about why the High Meadow at Fairfield Hills is not open space. The SHPMC considered a portion of the High Meadow as the most likely place for a memorial to be sited, but conservation-minded residents spoke out against this use of "open space."

Mr Grogins said that he had been asked to determine the legality of a memorial being placed on that property, and had determined that the town had not completed the process by which the High Meadow would be properly declared open space and failure of Planning & Zoning to file a "restrictive covenant," an act later remedied.

A month later, SHPMC members continued to consider the High Meadow site, walking the property and hearing of challenges to the property for a memorial from Gary Sorge, vice president of Stantec Consulting Services in New Haven. In April Mr Sorge presented to the commission access alternatives to the High Meadow site and heard from Newtown Land Use Director George Benson, regarding restrictions to that piece of property, even as public contention to siting the memorial at the High Meadow continued.

At the May 2, Board of Selectmen meeting, Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra and Selectmen Herb Rosenthal and Will Rodgers spent most of the one-hour meeting hearing comments from voters concerned about the possibility of a permanent memorial to 12/14 being sited in the Fairfield Hills High Meadow. Frustration was apparent in the voices of SHPMC members as the commission's May 12 meeting took a turn from a months-long focus on the High Meadow at Fairfield Hills as a site for a permanent memorial to 12/14 to that of reconsidering other options. Commission member Alan Martin made a motion to suspend and table consideration of High Meadow as a site for the permanent memorial, with the intent to explore other locations. Three other Fairfield Hills sites were suggested by Mr Benson and Mrs Llodra, with the commission agreeing to consider the feasibility of any of those sites.

By June, focus shifted from the High Meadow to one of those locations just a half-mile away. Commissioners eyed a semi-secluded and picturesque site about 200 yards from the intersection of Wasserman Way and Nunnawauk Road. That location already had a small parking area available for those who use the parcel for passive recreation, hiking, and dog walking. Local Land Use officials said the site, of which less than an acre would be required, was set aside for future town use.

Commissioners in early September walked the site, noting that it was a "beautiful setting." Working their way through goldenrod and Queen Ann's lace and long grasses overgrown on the land, Steffan Burns, Donna Van Waalwijk, and Alan Martin stopped on a rise. They were listening for gunshots.

The three stood near a wooded buffer surrounding the 28-acre parcel of state land that borders Potatuck Fish and Game Club property. Skeet shooting at the game club was audible, they determined, after Property Manager Bruce Clark test fired from the skeet range. Just two days later, at a September 8 meeting, this location was also off the table for consideration. The Potatuck Fish and Game Club is a hunting club and bird preserve on 413 acres. In keeping with state hunting season, members hunt pheasant and deer, but skeet shooting takes place year-round. Mr Clark had clarified that shooting does not necessarily take place every day.

By early October commissioners had another location in mind: a 6-acre property at 28 Riverside Road and an abutting .85-acre property at 32 Riverside Road, which are owned by Boys Social and Athletic Club of Sandy Hook, Inc, a nonprofit group. The 28 Riverside Road address is commonly known as SAC Field due to the presence of an old baseball field and soccer field there. The site is near the new Sandy Hook School, at 12 Dickinson Drive off of Riverside.

By mid-month, the location became the future home of a permanent memorial. On October 13, the volunteer members of the permanent memorial commission unanimously approved siting the memorial at SAC Field.

The location "just felt right," Chairman Kyle Lyddy had said. "We went there with [SAC Field Trustee] George Lockwood, and we went there with [town Director of Planning] George Benson," Mr Lyddy said. "And some of the thoughts expressed at the meeting were that this is probably the first location where multiple people on the committee said they felt at peace - even parents on the commission who lost children that day."

Mr Lyddy in December said, "Right now, the process is with the town." Mr Benson and Mrs Llodra and their legal team are in negotiations with the SAC Field Board of Trustees. Part of the current discussion is whether the land must be purchased or if it will be a donation.

As a new year begins, it appears a positive step has been taken to creating a permanent memorial to those killed 12/14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Members of the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission and Parks and Recreation follow Gary Sorge of Stantec Consulting Services up the edge of the East Meadow at Fairfield Hills on a chilly morning in March. The High Meadow site was ultimately ruled out. (Bee file photo)
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