Guided by facilitators from the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, Newtown officials established a set of principles as a series of meetings on the future of Sandy Hook School began at the Newtown Municipal Center Friday night.
Since the Dec. 14 shooting, Sandy Hook Elementary students have attended Chalk Hill School in Monroe. As early as January, the town has opened discussion on the school's fate, with both public forums and private meetings with staff, families and members of the Sandy Hook School community.
The task force includes selectmen Pat Llodra, Will Rodgers and Jim Gaston, as well as Newtown's Board of Education, Board of Finance and Legislative Council. In coming weeks, they will be presented with options and consider the best location for students of Sandy Hook Elementary School to resume classes when they return from Monroe.
"I think we have good decision-makers and good thinkers here," said Llodra. "There's no solution that's going to be 100 percent acceptable to any population. We've been saying from the beginning that compromise is the name of the game ... There's no perfect solution here. The perfect solution for the town of Newtown would be if this didn't happen to us."
The principles, which the task force said emerged over the course of various meetings with constitutents:
- Do not redistrict Sandy Hook School students.
- Locate the school in, or "immediately proximate to," Sandy Hook.
- Ensure enough land at the site for a school, playground, parking lot and ball field.
- Allow faculty/staff's perceptions and emotional status to influence recommendations.
- The emotions and perceptions of victims' families and survivors are considered "very influential."
- The opinions of Sandy Hook parents and community must be considered.
- The location and site must be compatible with safety expectations.
- Students should be returned to Newtown "as soon as good planning can allow for."
- Both short-term and long-term thinking should guide site selection and building design.
- Positive and negative physical attributes associated with the chosen site should be considered (for example, Dickinson Drive, the Sandy Hook firehouse and the Children's Adventure Center.)
The team will be presented with site options at the next meeting, scheduled for April 12. Officials said that meeting would focus on presentation of a "briefing book" containing the options prepared by a The third, scheduled for April 19, will allow officials a chance to question the viability of site options after having reviewed plans.
The long list of scenarios includes "all the sites [the team] considered, even the ones they never took past the first step," according to land use officials Rob Sibley and George Benson.
Through April and into May, the task force will meet regularly on Friday nights at the Municipal Center, working through the discussion of site options. If possible, according to schedule, the task force hopes to move to a decision by May 3, but the schedule allows for an additional meeting May 10 if needed.
"The most important thing I [think] is that we don't get redistricted," said Peter Baressi, a first responder and parent of a Sandy Hook first grader, during public comment.
"Our concern is we understand we are part of Newtown. Everybody has shown us how much they're a part of us as well. There's going to be some special needs... Kindergarten, first and second grade, given [t]heir relation in the school to what happened, will probably need a lot of extra help. Chalk Hill has been very good. However, it is not an elementary school. We know this process takes a long time. We have to act fact to get our kids back to an elementary school."