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Selectmen’s Vote Sets Permanent Memorial Construction Process Into Motion



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A quick and unanimous vote April 20 by the Board of Selectmen has set a time clock in motion that Newtown’s Public Building & Site Commission (PBSC) Chairman pledges will not tick past December 14, 2022.

That sorrowful date will mark ten years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. And it marks a point on PBSC Chairman Robert Mitchell’s calendar by which the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial will be complete and open for those who may come to seek solace among its winding paths and water features.

Last Monday, selectmen voted to approve the final design contract for the permanent memorial that nobody would have ever wanted, but that countless individuals from immediate survivors to inspired design contributors around the globe have agonized over since the concept of creating it was launched in 2013.

While the project will continue to be overseen by the renowned San Francisco firm SWA Group, Mitchell and the selectmen have authorized an award-winning Newtown landscape design architect to serve as the local associate on the project.

As principal and founder of Artemis Landscape Architects, Tara M. Vincenta, RLA, ASLA, brings 30 years of experience and leadership to this extremely sensitive and important project. Her work has included designing diverse landscapes including environmental and regional planning studies, multi-family housing, corporate, institutional, and private residential work.

Vincenta is also a recent inductee into the New England Design Hall of Fame.

Formerly profiled in The Newtown Bee’s “Home & Garden” publication for her award-winning work on sensory gardens for children on the autism spectrum, Vincenta takes personal interest in every facet of her work, from schematic design through construction administration.

Landscape-Nature Connection

During the selectmen’s meeting Monday, First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said it was important to get someone on board with “boots on the ground experience [locally] to guide us, or we might run the risk of designing something we’d be unable to build.

“I feel we now have the contract and contractors who will be able to create a design that will have a good opportunity for consideration by the public,” the first selectman added.

With a strong commitment to the connection between nature, landscapes, and public health, Vincenta designed the award winning, nature based SOL (Sequential Outdoor Learning) Environment as a way of addressing the needs of children with autism. And she volunteers her time on a pro-bono basis for many community oriented projects.

Her design, graphic skills, communication, and horticultural expertise has set her apart — and under Vincenta’s direction Artemis has received numerous awards from the Connecticut Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, as well as two Innovation in Design Awards from Connecticut Cottages and Gardens.

With SWA and Vincenta on board, Mitchell said his next charge is to qualify as many as a half dozen possible construction managers who will vie for the position. Much like with the local police headquarters project, Mitchell believes having a construction manager working side by side with designers lends itself to smooth building processes and ultimately successful outcomes.

“Goings on around this project have been quiet for a while as we’ve been working behind the scenes to get to this point, but as of Monday, we’ve approved the full design contract with SWA,” Mitchell said. “Up until now we haven’t had a full contract. They proceeded with conceptual designs to get the Permanent Memorial Commission to where they needed to be [to approve the project].”

Now the full design of the memorial will commence in earnest.

“At the same time, I’m working to line up the right construction manager so we can get them on board as soon as possible to do all the pre-construction work, cost estimating, and review of materials. The construction manager may look at things like materials differently than design people do, and for example, may be able to identify a supply item that would be difficult to obtain and could contribute to delaying the project,” Mitchell said.

Hiring Local CM

The PBSC chairman said he is committed to prioritizing Connecticut-based construction mangers in his solicitation of Requests for Qualifications or RFQs. “I’m very provincial about that,” he said.

During the selectmen’s meeting Mitchell shared that it is a bit more challenging to find a good construction manager who has high expertise on a site-related project like the Sandy Hook memorial, simply because “most CMs are interested in building structures, not things like parks.”

During the selectmen’s meeting, the first selectman reminded his colleagues that the initially approved design for the memorial was priced at over $10 million.

“That was a tough pill for everyone to swallow, because we knew it was too high,” Rosenthal said. “So we asked SWA to re-engineer the design so we could get a project appropriate to bring to the public for consideration. So we told SWA the design elements that were really critical and they came back with [a design] that received unanimous approval from the Memorial Commission.”

With headquarters in Bridgeport and a Sandy Hook sub-office literally within walking distance of the memorial site off Riverside Road, Mitchell sad Artemis and Vincenta will handle around one-third of the overall work, and will directly oversee the construction aspects of the project.

“While we’ll coordinate closely with SWA, phone and video conferencing from San Francisco, you really want to be able to get together in the same room and lean over drawings and mark it up,” Mitchell said. “That way you can get a really good idea of how things are perceived. You can’t do that as well in a video chat.”

One of the primary goals Mitchell said he has stressed throughout this phase of the memorial creation process, is that “this has to be completed before we mark ten years since the event.”

“That may seem way down the road right now, but in terms of a construction project of this scope, it is not,” Mitchell assured. “So we’re working like crazy to meet that ten-year mark.”

A conceptual elevation design shows the latest iteration of the planned Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial. On April 20, the Board of Selectmen unanimously voted to proceed with the design contracts, and will soon be interviewing potential construction managers. — image courtesy SWA Group
This elevation shows the current Riverside Road site and future location of the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial. — image courtesy SWA Group
Another perspective of the planned Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial shows one of the meandering pathways passing one of the several water features planned for the site. — image courtesy SWA Group
Selectmen have authorized hiring an award-winning Newtown landscape design architect Tara M. Vincenta, RLA, ASLA, of Artemis Landscape Architects to serve as the local associate on the Permanent Memorial project.
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