Construction To Begin At Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial August 23
With the Board of Selectmen expected to approve a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) for the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial at its August 16 meeting, Downes Construction Company Vice President of Preconstruction Jeffrey Anderson announced that work will begin at the site on August 23.
According to Public Buildings and Site Commission (PBSC) Chair Robert Mitchell, who led The Newtown Bee on an August 10 site walk, the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission was set up years ago to decide where the memorial would be, and what it would be. The proposed budget for the project started at $13 million, then was reduced to $11 million, then to $8 million, before finally settling at the voter-approved $3.7 million.
When the PBSC took on project oversight on behalf of the municipality ahead of preparation for construction, members carried out their duties as they had previously with the Sandy Hook School and the new police station — by starting an ad hoc commission that could meet weekly. The weekly meetings allow work to get done more quickly and efficiently, Mitchell said.
“We call it the Sandy Hook method,” said Mitchell. “It’s worked very well for us, the projects have come in on time and under budget. You can’t do better than that.”
With a goal to finish the project next summer with a set opening date of December 14, 2022, ten years on from the tragedy, Mitchell said the PBSC is doing all it can to be efficient, including fast starting parts of construction prior to final approval of money from the town, and preparing the ground of the memorial for planting next spring.
Sally Feuerberg, a member of the ad hoc commission, said the group has been “very involved,” and that the “work can go quickly if we stay on top of everything.”
The memorial will be located at 28 Riverside Road, which also is the base for Newtown Underwater Search And Rescue (NUSAR). The 28 Riverside Road property, long known as SAC Field, held a baseball and soccer field that was utilized by local youth leagues. The property was signed over to Newtown in 2017 by the Sandy Hook Boys’ Social and Athletic Club (SAC) trustees. The site is near the new Sandy Hook School.
Downes was hired in summer of 2020 by the town and began the budgeting process. Mitchell said the main reason Downes was hired is that they were “the only firm that said that we couldn’t do the project we wanted on the budget we had, but that they could get us there.”
“They were honest,” said Mitchell.
Willing, Able Partners
Mitchell said the town worked with Downes to “reduce the scale” of the project but “keep the look and feel.”
“They knew how to make it work without changing the design,” Mitchell said.
Anderson said that Downes was feeling a “heightened sense of responsibility” for the project.
“All jobs are important, but this job we want to make sure to have this done on time and to the satisfaction of everyone involved,” said Anderson.
Tara Vincenza of Artemis Landscape Architects, representing the international architecture firm SWA Group, presented plans for the memorial at an August 5 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.
Vincenza explained there would be a welcome wall with a quote from then-president Obama and “sacred soil” created from some of the many thousands of items sent to the town in the wake of the tragedy at the entrance. An path from the 24-car parking lot will be graded to be Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant. Natural native plants, meadows, and pathways will allow visitors to interact with nature and take them to the reflecting pool, in the middle of which will be a tree planted in that same sacred soil.
While original plans designated a Sycamore tree, the current plan calls for a Bloodgood London Plane Tree. Vincenza explained that there are two types of Sycamore trees, the American and the Asian.
She said the Bloodgood London Plane Tree is a hybrid of both. American Sycamore trees are highly susceptible to anthracnose disease, and commercial growers do not recommend planting them. The hybrid tree was chosen for its resilience to disease.
“We want to be sure that whatever tree gets planted will be healthy and sustainable,” Vincenza said.
The pathways will be packed gravel. Cameras mounted on poles will provide partial security. Proposed safety fences were eliminated for cost reasons.
When Work Begins
When work starts on August 23, Anderson said that eight-foot construction fences will go up to enclose the upper area of the site, and a processed base pad will be constructed in the upper field to house a temporary construction headquarters. The town’s diving and rescue team will use the pad after construction is finished.
Underground runoff basins will be installed at the upper field before the parking lot is paved.
While the grading of the property will not change significantly, the area where the walkway between the parking lot and the memorial will be is currently very steep — “Like a cliff,” according to Anderson. That area will be graded so the elevation change is more gradual, allowing the walkway to be accessible to all visitors regardless of their mobility.
Dead trees, brush, and invasive plants will be cleared to beautify the area, and some cleaning around the two ponds on the property will be done. A large precast vault that will house the pumps and controls for the water feature will be installed underground in the lower field.
The water pump equipment “is the heart of everything,” said Feuerberg.
Vincenza said the fountain is automatic, controlled by auto circulation and a timer. The mechanicals will be in a vault on the property and town staff will have access for maintenance. A potable, environmentally safe product will be added to the water to prevent it from freezing.
Once this preparatory work is complete, the reflecting pool/water feature and the tree as well as walkways and planters will be installed. Anderson said at the next public buildings meeting, sequencing of the project will be discussed, especially the early stages.
“It’s a process,” Anderson said. “It’s important to begin on the right foot and be on the same page with what is going to occur.”
Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.