First Selectman Pat Llodra and Superintendent John Reed both say they're confident residents will vote to accept nearly $50 million in state bonds at a townwide referendum Oct. 5 -- enough to destroy and rebuild Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In anticipation, they're answering questions from residents at a series of "informational meetings" (the next is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 30 at the Newtown Senior Center. On Thursday, the town also released its fifth Q&A about issues surrounding the vote. (See attached PDF.)
"The action of this referendum is different than any other we've ever had," Llodra says. "That causes some attention to be drawn to it."
She's hoping for a high turnout, while adding it's difficult to predict numbers or outcomes. But what happens if the referendum fails?
"I honestly don't know how the state would interpret it," she says. "I think they would be shocked and embarrassed -- I would be as well. And I worry about what message that would send to the state."
First all work would cease, Llodra says. And because the referendum specifically calls for the demolition and reconstruction of the school, the town couldn't accept the $49.25 million bond for any other alternative project. There is, she says, no "Plan B."
"It's not like they're writing us a check for $50 million," she said. In short, if the town does not accept the funds for this project, there may not be state funds available for any other project.
Renovating the school would cost almost as much as building a new school. And it couldn't be done without the state funds. In the words of the recent Q&A issued by the town:
"If the Town does not accept that action, then the State will not provide this gift to our community and other alternatives would have to be found for the entire elementary school population of Sandy Hook, some 450 students counting the district's pre-K program."
Some Work Already Underway
When residents in attendance voted to accept $750,000 in starter funds for the Sandy Hook School project, work began on a series of measures. These include removing oil tanks from the property, mapping wetlands and completing surveys -- work Llodra says "would have had to be done anyway." She says some money still remains from the initial $750,000 grant.
"We're only going to pay for work that has to be done," she says. "We don't want to get ahead of the community."
The town is also negotiating with homeowners to purchase property at 10 and 12 Riverside Road. This would create a new access road to a future Sandy Hook Elementary School, which Newtown's task force decided would be preferable for the project.
Earlier this month, building officials named their choices for teams to lead the design and construction of the school project. New Haven-based Svigals + Partners will serve as architects and engineers, and Consligi, a firm based in Milford, Mass., will oversee construction. Officials narrowed down the choices from a shortlist of nine firms over the summer.
"Any one of those firms would have done a wonderful job for us," Llodra says. "They're experienced, responsible, accomplished, with great tech, great vision. It could have gone in almost any direction."
A hazardous materials abatement plan is in place for the property, with abatement scheduled to start in October. Officials say they expect the school to be demolished sometime in November, assuming the referendum passes.