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Residents Share Ideas on Sandy Hook School's Fate

In the first meeting to gather community input on the fate of the elementary school building, officials heard from many residents, including parents of Sandy Hook students.

 

Ideas about what to do with the Sandy Hook Elementary School building flew fast and furious on Sunday evening, as Newtown community members — including a large contingent of Sandy Hook parents — addressed town officials in a public forum at Newtown High School.

The forum was the first in a series designed to open discussion and test community opinion on the fate of the building at the center of December's tragic shooting that took the lives of 20 students and six educators. The building remains closed as a crime scene while students attend Chalk Hill School in neighboring Monroe.

Speakers and officials alike knew the stakes were high — as commenter Veronica Marr told the crowd, "The eyes of the world are on Newtown" — and First Selectman Pat Llodra opened by assuring Sandy Hook residents and parents their voices would be heard.

Some residents had questioned whether the state would be able to financially support the community's eventual plan. Llodra assured the crowd that the town had support whatever that plan would be.

"I have every confidence that the governor's office, the state legislature, the commission on education and our state and federal representatives will be at the table with us, and will do everything possible to help us achieve what the community decides is right for Sandy Hook and Newtown," she said. 

Moderator Fran Pennarola asked the crowd to refrain from applause, but it didn't seem to have much effect: applause of various levels followed many speakers during the frequently emotional meeting. 

Some ideas were novel: build a new school at nearby Treadwell Park, and convert the school into a park. And some residents came to make their own suggestions for repurposing the property: a senior center, an observatory extension of the nearby Children's Adventure Center, or a "school for peace education."

NHS senior Mergim Bajralin went to Sandy Hook Elementary School. He told the crowd some of his best childhood memories were at Sandy Hook School — and that his sister, who was at the school Dec. 14, says she misses her school.

"You know, I don't personally think it should be knocked down," he said, listing many of his favorite memories from his years at Sandy Hook. "If you were to knock the school down, we'd be preventing future children from experiencing the same memories ... I don't think one psychopath, who I refuse to name, should be able to ruin this for us."

On the other end of the spectrum, Sandy Hook parent Stephanie Carson said she couldn't imagine anyone ever returning to the building.

"I cannot ask my son or any of the people who were there that day to walk back into that building, and see the past. They can never go back," she said. "The reality is, we have to be so careful even walking in the halls because the children are so scared of any unusual sound. My wish would be to knock it down and have some sort of a memorial, and have the Sandy Hook children be together in another school."

Regardless of side, nearly all parents emphasized the need to keep students together in the face of some parents' concerns about redistricting, which could hypothetically lead to Sandy Hook students being separated in the future.

"I don't have a strong opinion on whether she should go back to school or not," said Sandy Hook parent Felicia Delgiudice. "But what I do have a strong opinion on is, I just want all those kids in Sandy Hook to be together — not to be redistricted in any means."

Other parents echoed those sentiments, asking officials to ensure their children wouldn't be separated from their friends.

"From teachers to lunch ladies, Sandy Hook is a family," said Sandy Hook resident Kathy Holick.

Llodra tried to assuage the fears of redistricting, saying it was "not something I would support."

"It would not be my opinion to advance redistricting," she said, but added she could only offer her personal opinion as an individual, not as a representative of the government. "I can tell you as a former educator, I am absolutely passionate about neighborhood schools, and I think the model we have here comes the closest to replicating that."

Legislative Council Chairman Jeff Capeci said he liked what he heard Sunday, but knew it was just the beginning.

"You heard a wide variety of ideas. I think it was great," Capeci said. "But you have a lot of raw feelings at this point. It's going to be difficult to do something everybody will agree upon immediately, but it's the start of a conversation. I think Newtown is strong, and I think Sandy Hook deserves a school in the future. Exactly where that's going to be, how we move forward to achieve that, is what these conversations will absolutely lead to." 

In any case, the decision won't be hasty. A final call is not expected for months, according to officials.

Patch will bring more excerpts from the many opinions expressed Sunday afternoon in a follow-up to this article. The next public forum is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 18, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Thomas Crafts January 14, 2013 at 11:41 AM
It is still too early to make any kind of rational decision on this issue. Give it some time.
Carolyn Gingras January 14, 2013 at 01:40 PM
I agree with Mergim. I am a Sandy Hook Elementary alum as well and a lot of my best childhood memories were at that school. I understand what happened there is tragic and my heart still aches from that day, but I think to tear down the entire school is irrational. They should do something like what they did at Columbine: refurbish the affected area of the school and make it into something else. They could put in a peaceful area (waterfall, various plants, etc) where that hallway is and then just completely refurbish the entrance area and make it inviting to the kids again. And I also agree with the idea to keep those kids together. They need each other now more than ever. Only they and the educators and staff there that day can help each other heal. We can all try to sympathize with them, but none of us know what they really went through and I hope none of us ever have to. I think we need to hear ideas from those who were there that day, if they are willing to share their ideas. If they decide to knock down the school, I understand. I'm sure more ideas will be put forth and I'm looking forward to hearing them. You're always in my heart, Newtown. God Bless.
Patricia Grace-Farfaglia January 14, 2013 at 02:00 PM
I think we should make it a charter school that promotes pro-social behavior.
Marci January 14, 2013 at 02:05 PM
I am an SHS parent and I was at the meeting last night. I didn't speak but my thoughts echo many of those who did who felt strongly that our school should remain together, and it was comforting to hear that there were many voices who, like us, want to return to our school and would like to make a decision on that as soon as is reasonably possible. Our kids need to know what their future holds. I understand that there will not be a one size fits all solution to this, and I like everyone else and keeping my heart and mind open to all options, but it was good to hear threads of unification. I also want to say thank you and offer my round of applause to the young man, Mr. Bajralin, who spoke on behalf of himself and his younger sister, a current SHS student. We were asked not to applaud for any of the comments, and early on we didn't, but I so wanted to cheer you on - your comments were thoughtful, caring and brave and you deserved as much support for your thoughts as anyone, so thank you for sharing them.
Snowflake78 January 14, 2013 at 02:44 PM
While it might be too early to make final decisions for the town this soon, we as SHS parents need to know what happens to our kids come September and how to best prepare them. It is just one more uncertainty weighing on us right now...
AT January 14, 2013 at 04:07 PM
After attending last evening, I am glad to see that while our opinions on the fate of the actual building may differ, universally, every SHS parent indicated that this tragedy should under NO circumstances, be used as an excuse to redistrict or absorb our school's community across the other schools. The common ground was clear. We want to be together (including incoming younger siblings). We want to be in Sandy Hook (somewhere). We want our teachers and staff to remain intact (a concern if the schools were consolidated). And we want it sooner rather than later (as in hopefully by September).
Frederick G. Roy January 14, 2013 at 04:33 PM
I totally agree. There is no need to rush anything here.
M Life January 14, 2013 at 07:21 PM
Its good to talk, and way to early for decisions. As a SHES parent, I understand the setiment of not wanting to lose memories, but the fear and pain or stress of others who were there should far out way anything else. We can all keep our memories, but to ask someone to return to scene of the crime is unfair in my opinion. After all it is just a building, the people, the memories, and good feeling will follow where the community goes. A new school at FFld hills or treadwell is a great idea. Turning the sandy hook campus into a memorial park, with 26 steps leading in is what i propose.
Brenda schrader January 14, 2013 at 08:25 PM
ask the kids what they would want, after all they are the ones who will be walking those halls. I think we would all be inspired at their answers.
P Celtic January 14, 2013 at 08:26 PM
I was at the meeting and liked that many want to keep the children together. Either way, if you disregard those who already have plans with no consideration for where the students go, such as Peace Education Technology, the SHE choices can be simplified to four basic options with some blanks that need to be filled in. A) Redistrict, SHE becomes a fading memory and the building razed or repurposed (I lose my interest, though lean towards the building becoming the Sandy Hook School for Peace Education Technologies). The next three options need input from officials for costs and timeline estimates. B) SHE gets a facelift and re-opens; seems the quickest, cost effective way to keep a SHE, if that is a goal, but an emotional vortex for those who do not want to enter the building. It would seem conceivable if you picked this course SHE students and faculty could return in the 2013 year, though it could easily take longer C) Raze the school and rebuild on the current site. Very costly, you throw out a building and the timeline includes a tear down and a build. D) Repurpose or raze the school and build a new one on in a new location. Again, very high costs and long time line, you have to find a new location but do not have to pay for the demo and scrap of the current building. Estimates on these options was what I was hoping to hear at the meeting. Memorial brainstorming before the SHE problem is resolved is the cart before the horse, a sentiment P. Llodra, thankfully,echoed.
Heather Bruno January 15, 2013 at 03:47 AM
What about the siblings who lost their brother or sister that day and would have to return to SHE -would they be ok with that? -would the parents who lost their children be ok with that? We need to hear their voices.
Ted M. January 15, 2013 at 02:14 PM
It makes no sense at all to demolish a building. This was a tragic incident but how the adults handle this will affect how the children react to adversity in their lives in the future. I think that repairing the school so that there is no sign of what happened and placing a memorial outside the building would be a great way to honor the lives of those that were killed. Kids are resilient and often take their ques from the reactions of their parents and if the parents make a big deal out of the school then the kids will too. If the parents assure the kids it is okay to return to the same building then the kids will feel better.
Sean O'Neil January 15, 2013 at 06:36 PM
I think we need to continue to working on a plan for how we proceed here, and come up with answers sooner, rather than later. It's not healthy for the town or our kids to not really know where we will be next year, the year after, etc... I support Pat Llodra's, the Selectmen, and our states legislators efforts to work with our community, solicit input, and try to come up with some direction here. I am personally in favor of keeping Sandy Hook School, but only after major renovation and modernization of the school, with particular focus on safety and also of making it a "happy place" for our kids (to distract away from the cloud which I am afraid will form over this school). In addition, I think we should build a "Dawn Hochsprung Memorial Library" on the premises, in honor of the wonderful principal we lost. A memorial for all lost should be on the grounds, with a seperate larger Memorial for the public erected elsewhere, so as not to interfere with the school. Just my two cents...
Southbury Resident January 15, 2013 at 09:31 PM
I am not from Newton but rather a neighbor. I think it should be said here that whatever Newton decides I think we all will fully support. If any volunteer work is needed please post on the patch. Costs could be significantly down with volunteers. If extra money is needed (for new school or so) I am pretty sure Southbury folks will be more then glad to help out.
Sharon January 15, 2013 at 10:04 PM
I think the classroom, hallway and office where most of the crimes took place should be gutted out and replaced with a beautiful courtyard with a gorgeous garden with seating and 26 bushes shaped to resemble the victims most favorite animal, toy or doll. For example: One of the beautiful children loved football. Have a bush trimmed to shape a football and place that bush in the child's name. Six angels shaped from bushes represent the adults who fought for the children. The school doesn't need to be demolished but the appearance of it has to change. A courtyard is something many schools have and I think it's nice to have children read their books outside during reading time at the library.
Sharon January 15, 2013 at 10:14 PM
God Bless Everyone In Newtown. You are in my heart and prayers.
Carolyn Gingras January 15, 2013 at 11:00 PM
I agree with everything you said. I like the ideas too!
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com January 16, 2013 at 12:56 PM
I think the consensus is to not redistrict SHE students. Nor should we redistrict other students as a result. Now is the time for stability and safety . Build a new school, turn SHE into the new senior center, police station and memorial recreation center and let the kids stay in Reed, our newest school.
M Life January 17, 2013 at 03:33 AM
Mike the difference here is little kids, major major difference. these kids are still developing and a trigger of being back at the scene could ruin someone. the building has to go!
John B January 17, 2013 at 12:47 PM
Let Sandy Hook decide, no one else's opinions should matter. (Disclaimer: I do not live in SH) In no way should this be left to the results of a town wide vote, or the opinions of people who do not reside there.
Tony January 17, 2013 at 07:36 PM
Sandy Hook is part of Newtown. Their decisions will impact our taxes and maybe even the overall school district. Do you live in Newtown?
Sharon January 18, 2013 at 04:39 AM
Mike, are you kidding? I certainly hope so. I don't live in Newtown, but if I wish to send my regards and compassionate words to the citizens in Newtown, Ct. than I will certainly do so without your approval. All because you live in Newtown certainly doesn't make you elite from the rest of us.
Michael Cragin January 18, 2013 at 11:43 AM
........after all the other massacres.....the site where it occured was returned to its prior use.......columbine=high school..........v tech...still a university.......auroaua......is still a theatre......Sandy hook....was a school......isa school.........should remain a school......Alter what needs altering.......and open it again in the fall........
Tony January 18, 2013 at 04:22 PM
Michael...Sandy Hook site is different.....Aurora...is a public place...people affected do not have to go to that theater....minimal impact to those people ..... VTech is a school....those affected can choose a different school...minimal impact to those people.....Sandy Hook .... people affected would have no other choice but to go to Sandy Hook, unless they sell their home and/or send their kids to private school. Must bigger impact to the Sandy Hook families impacted by this tragedy . Workers at Sandy Hook are in a much more confined space..heard everything. Many more of their co-workers were killed than in the other two.
Carolyn Gingras January 19, 2013 at 03:10 AM
I think the SHS students, teachers and staff should decide. We can all share our opinions (no matter where we're from) but the only opinions that should truly matter in this situation is the SHS community who was there that tragic day. I would like to hear what they want to do with the school: keep it (but refurbish it) or get rid of it and make it something else. If they pick the latter option, then that's when the community should share their opinions on what to do with the school and then a vote should take place. I live in Sandy Hook and I want everyone to know I think about those kids and teachers everyday and I pray for our town to heal. God bless.
guitarkatie@gmail.com February 04, 2013 at 01:48 AM
I think an AMAZING idea would be to leave the basic structure of the building without knocking it down but remodeling it and turning it into something positive like a community center with a memorial attached. The community center can have a library, playground, exercise rooms, music rooms, art rooms ect. and you can get art and music therapists to provide classes to the children of the community. This would not only be a place for the children to stay together, but also to heal. You can also have an area with a separate memorial for the victims. It shouldn't be recognizable as the school it once was because like someone said above, the children were very young and are going to associate it as a place of terror. Yes other schools like columbine and virginia tech were not changed but the victims were much older. Also the shooters in those situations were students of the school and were the same age where as the shooter in this situation was from outside the institution and had nothing in common with the innocent children. This act was so horrific that I do not see it ever being a school again, it just wouldn't be right. It needs to be turned into something else and serve as a memorial for the victims.

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