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SHPMC Assesses Costs For Permanent Memorial

Published: May 14, 2019 at 07:00 am

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With only five out of ten members present, the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission (SHPMC) turned its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on May 9 into a working session.

SHPMC Vice Chairman Alan Martin led the evening discussion by saying that despite the gathering having to be an unofficial meeting with no voting, “We still hope to accomplish what we have envisioned at this point.”

Since the group’s meeting last month, commission members were given the opportunity to submit their memorial questions and input electronically to designers Daniel Affleck and Ben Waldo of SWA Group, based out of San Francisco.

Mr Affleck and Mr Waldo created the permanent memorial design that the SHPMC had chosen last year and recommended the Board of Selectmen move forward with.

Upon the design’s approval, First Selectman Dan Rosenthal began communication with the designers to have them take their original design — costing approximately $11 million — and craft three options at a lower price point with the town’s $4 million Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) allotment in mind.

In doing so, three designs were submitted to the commission earlier this year at estimated price points of $5 million, $4 million, and $3.3 million.

When reviewing these revised options at the SHPMC’s April 11 meeting, members expressed concerns among one another that crucial elements, like the bridges, were omitted in all the designs and that the overall changes to the original design led members to question their confidence in having selected it in the first place.

“Drastic Cuts”

During the working session on May 9, the commission was able to communicate with Mr Affleck and Mr Waldo over the phone and view the designers’ computer monitor, projected on a screen in the Municipal Center’s Council Chambers, to look at specific aspects being discussed.

While going over feedback from the SHPMC’s submitted questions, the designers emphasized on multiple occasions that they tried their best to present three options in budget, but it was a challenge that involved them having to make “drastic cuts” in some areas.

The reason the two bridges were eliminated from the revised versions, they explained, was because the bridges were a costly element and that the circular design could not be achieved by reducing it to just one bridge.

Since having the bridges was important to the commission members, Mr Affleck and Mr Waldo said they will need to reach out to a bridge manufacturer again to investigate how to reduce the costs if they were to keep it in the design.

While some subjects in question such as the lighting, security/fencing, and amenities like bathrooms were deferred to the Town of Newtown, SHPMC, and other groups to contribute their input, the designers did have an itemized spreadsheet for other elements they could discuss in detail.

When assessing the costs of the parking lot and the reduction of spaces proposed in the revised designs, Mr Rosenthal inquired if having the memorial’s driveway accessed from Dickinson Drive instead of Riverside Road would require less leveling of the land and be a lower cost option.

However, upon further discussion, SHPMC member and former First Selectman Pat Llodra said that doing so may “lose sensitivity” to the project, considering it would cause people to travel by the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company’s station and be on the same road that leads to Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Funding Options

In addition to the $4 million CIP fund, the topic of what options the commission has for obtaining additional money for the design was discussed.

SHPMC member Sarah Middeleer started off the conversation by saying that she is not comfortable with the $4 million number, because it eviscerates much of what Mr Affleck and Mr Waldo had in their original design that the SHPMC had based their decision on.

“I’m confused as to why we have that number. I don’t believe the commission had the time to discuss this figure, the four million,” Ms Middeleer said. “I personally would like to propose that we trim costs judiciously… with the goal of shaving off two or three million from the original design and then find outside funding if we need to.”

She added, “I really think we need to try state or private resources.”

Mr Rosenthal explained that the $4 million figure is “arbitrary” and that he understands the sensitivity of this project, but he has to be “cognizant of what the community might be willing to support.”

He went on to say that while he thinks Ms Middeleer’s suggestion of finding other funding sources is fine and something he will support exploring, he does not “want to assign too much hope to the fact that money is just going to pour in.”

When looking at the money usage strategically, Ms Llodra said that she is approaching budgeting the project from the perspective of prioritizing what the core elements are first, versus looking at what are less significant items to eliminate.

Ms Middeleer says when doing that process of picking and choosing, it is like “chipping away at a sculpture,” since the design was conceived as a whole.

Ms Llodra responded that while she was overseeing projects in town as First Selectman, there were cases where certain ideas were more expensive than what the budget would allow, and she does not want the commission to have a failed referendum vote.

Following the discussion, Mr Martin ended the phone conversation with Mr Affleck and Mr Waldo by saying, “We appreciate your sensitivity and dedication to this process.”

Mr Martin asked that the commission members submit their feedback to SHPMC Chair Daniel Krauss on the elements they feel must be kept, and they will get back to the designers on the input. In the meantime, Mr Martin also requested that SHPMC members JoAnn Bacon and Tricia Pinto reach out to the 12/14 families to keep them updated on the design process so far.

Concluding the meeting, Ms Middeleer brought up the idea that the commission could pursue a public-private sponsorship, like Central Park, if the town and families are open to it.

“I think it’s worth exploring,” she said.

With Ms Llodra expressing that she did not have the same confidence that it was a viable option and Mr Rosenthal saying he wants to “manage expectations,” they ended the discussion there.

Current Resources

While not talked about in detail at the SHPMC meeting, there are funds the town is overseeing that are designated for the permanent memorial.

Mr Rosenthal told The Newtown Bee on May 10 that the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, and the Legislative Council has appropriated $250,000 for the permanent memorial’s planning/design construction.

Newtown’s Finance Director Robert Tait said on May 13, “We have $112,000 in the Sandy Hook Donation Fund for the memorial.”

“There are no other funds separate from the CIP available at the moment outside of the aforementioned that I am aware of,” Mr Rosenthal explained. “The CIP amount is for planning and has not been approved as an official project amount.”

The next Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 13, at 7 pm, in the Municipal Center’s Council Chambers. To contact the commission, e-mail sandyhookpermanentmemorial@gmail.com.

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