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'That Ground is Sacred Now': More Residents' Voices on School's Fate

Parents and community members offered a wide variety of opinions at the second town forum Friday -- read some of their thoughts.

 

At Friday's second community meeting at Newtown High School, residents spoke frankly and openly about the fate of the Sandy Hook Elementary School building. Before comments from U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty and Q&A with First Selectman Pat Llodra, residents had another chance to voice their opinions and share their emotions after the Dec. 14 shooting, including the responses below.

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I've lived in Sandy Hook my whole life, and I've never been more proud of this town than I am right now. 

Sandy Hook Elementary School should be taken down and a memorial should be built in its place. If we build a new school or renovate an existing building, every Sandy Hook child and parent will be in the same position. If we keep the school up, our community will be separated into two groups -- those who can go back and those with children who simply can't. What choice do we give those families who can't go back? To leave the Sandy Hook community? To move altogether? How can we possibly treat them like that? After everything that Sandy Hook now stands for, how can we treat those who are deeply affected and traumatized like that? 

Taking the school down would not be burying the memories or pretending like nothing happened. Something did happen, and that ground is sacred now. It is incredibly disrespectful to keep the school up and running as if nothing happened. I went to Sandy Hook. Taking the school down to build a memorial does not mean those memories go away, and it does not prevent future generations from having good memories. And it certainly does not mean that troubled man is now taking our school too. It means that those who did not make it out of that building will be remembered and honored. The only way that man can remain a part of our future is if we allow it.

-- Jackie Hornack

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I grew up in Newtown and attended Head o' Meadow. The memories I still have are of loving teachers and the friends I made, not the actual walls themselves. We need to remember the spirit of Sandy Hook starts with the staff and the atmosphere they created, and the children and how they thrived in that atmosphere.

Our staff is amazing and has been incredible through all of this, putting our children's needs above their own, taking time out of their well-deserved breaks to set up classrooms so our children can get back to normal. I'd like to know what the teachers want.  They're the ones who will remain in the school, hopefully many years after our children. I would hate to lose even one of our heroes because they didn't feel comfortable with their surroundings. The spirit they bring will be in whatever four walls our children attend school in. I'm not belittling any child's wish to go back to school, but we have to consider what that day looks like when they re-cross that threshold. 

-- Adele Unger, mother of Sandy Hook student

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Walls do not make the school. The people and the staff make the school. We need to stay together, and our teachers are the ones that are going to have to stay there ... They need to decide, can they go to work every day there? If they can, so be it. All the power to them. But if they can't, it's their decision ... Can those teachers go to work every day and drive down that driveway? That's the question. And it's not for us to answer. It's for the staff to answer, and the students who will continue to come to Sandy Hook for years and years and years from now.

-- Savina, mother of Sandy Hook student

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I've been here in Newtown for about 25 years. My kids have gone through the school system. I've coached baseball at Sandy Hook for 10 or 15 years with the kids. In my eyes, they can never go back to that building. There's just too much tragedy. It would bring back too many memories. But there's other ways we could work.

I think we have to keep the school in Sandy Hook. We have to bring it back to that location. There's so many pieces of property there. I'm a developer and builder -- I look at things. You have Treadwell Park, you have all the woods between Treadwell Park and the school... You have the whole hillside back to the Villa restaurant. There's a very large piece of property there. It would be very easy to build another school at that location with a whole different design. Put the school where the ball fields are; put the ball fields were the school is.

But we have to knock that school down. There's no way we can send children there -- ten years from now, they're going to be reminded what happened in that building. We don't want that for our kids who aren't even born yet, knowing they're going to be put into that position just because of where they're living.

All the grants and state programs that are going on in our favor right now give us the opportunity to relocate that school and turn it into a palace. So the new kids coming in and the kids returning have something brand new -- something special, in a new location. Something to remember, something to be proud of. 

The entire nation is watching what we do. We can't afford not to put our best show on.

-- Mike Dauber

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The children at Sandy Hook, while they may not be adults, have a voice that deserves to be heard. Same for the teachers, staff and administrators at Sandy Hook. While I have ideas, I will support any idea they feel is best.

My help going forward comes from my daughter. While Rachel has been hesitant to discuss that day, she's made one thing clear: she misses her school. She loved her school. She wants to go back. She has many fine memories at Sandy Hook, from her first day in kindergarten getting off that big yellow bus -- even though she only rode 200 yards -- to the One School One Read night, when I fondly remember Principal Hochsprung during the book fair when she dressed up as the Book Fairy. 

I had found this a common reaction from many of her friends. One friend is struggling to deal with the event has made it clear he wants to go back to his school. Another friend, who's in fourth grade, also wants to return and is sad that his fourth grade graduation ceremony won't be held at Sandy Hook. For these kids, Sandy Hook is home and a special place.

-- Daniel Krause, father of Sandy Hook student

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I have two young daughters, aged two and four, and the oldest is scheduled to start kindergarten in the fall. I don't ever plan on sending her into that building. I'm kind of surprised it's even up for discussion. Whatever we choose to do as a community, I think that building needs to be razed and a memorial built. 

I was actually in lower Manhattan in 9/11, and this is worse. I love what they did for a memorial -- they actually built in the footprint of the building a reflecting pool memorial, so no feet ever tread on that sacred ground again. That's kind of the idea I'd like to see put in place here.

-- Adam Foley, Sandy Hook resident

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When I went to the meeting on Sunday, I really thought I wanted to remodel that school because it has such a place in my heart. I asked my son that night if he'd like to go back, and he said, 'Yes, Mommy.'

But even after my son told me he wanted to go back to that school, I think of the teachers. I think of what those teachers have been through. And I could not put one of those teachers through that again. Those teachers are amazing. They've got a Sandy Hook newsletter -- the SHS Connection -- and the new principal had [a column], and underneath that was an old December submission from Dawn Hochsprung. And I read that and thought, 'That is the spirit of Sandy Hook, right there.' Not in the walls, from Heaven. So we can carry that on through in the next school that we build.

Since December 14, I haven't driven through Sandy Hook on the way to pick up my son. I think that's a crucial part, too. We can drive through our town. We can drive down that road, and Treadwell Park, and that's our community. I feel if we build another school, it might not be in that location, but it should be in Sandy Hook. 

-- Nasa Waller, mother of Sandy Hook student

Fred January 25, 2013 at 02:38 PM
Mr. D. - you are comparing this Omaha Beach and Gettysburg. You know who would love those comparisons? The shooter... ridiculous, and yes my son was in the building as close as you could get without being a first grader.
Marilyn January 25, 2013 at 03:04 PM
Reed was built to accommodate the 5th and 6th graders in the district. It's not an elementary school. My 4th grader is excited to be in that school next year and now you want the elementary and the middle schools to be overcrowded? They will stay in Monroe for another year to figure things out before they will uproot everyone and redistrict. Remember whatever decision is made affects the entire district, not just SHES. It's not going to be an easy decision and won't happen overnight.
AT January 25, 2013 at 08:57 PM
Agree.It’s likely why nearly every school/location facing this opted for a major renovation.Mental health isn’t black/white and reactions change with time and differ for each.I understand the concern about triggers,but you can’t eliminate triggers.Can we ban 4th of July fireworks?What triggers one may be a comfort to another (familiarity & believing when you say, ‘it’s ok don’t be scared!’ Actions speak loudest.)It doesn’t have to be ‘those halls’ anymore, it can still preserve & respect the specific ‘sacred ground’, it can allow us to overcome and be stronger. The legacy of SHS doesn’t have to be forever defined by the horrific act of a madman. (The school was there, until…) I respect the notion of sacred ground, but if it’s OK to visit grandma or laugh on the swings there, why can’t anyone be allowed to learn there? I heard if ‘one can’t go back none of us should.’ Is that rationale? What if it happened late and 1 died and 1 saw and said she could never go back.Would we raze it then? What if it was Trinity or St. Rose, would we be as quick to concede those as just buildings?How many at Monroe are struggling and it’s a totally different place.Where is the $10 million proof that a new school would even help? More likely, only time and counseling will help. For those that still can’t go back after the 6-18+ months it would take, we have 3 other schools very close & it’d be just a 2 year bridge before we all met up again at Reed.
Fred January 26, 2013 at 01:47 AM
The raze the school drum beat is a short sighted view. The choices should be, in any responsible world, fiscally or otherwise, to redistrict or go back to the school. We all pay state and federal taxes too and will be taking funds from people who really need them. I keep hearing "their are too many bad memories in there". I thought brains housed memories, not buildings. My child is having memories triggered in the school he is in. Unfortunately, they will have them whatever school they are in. If I thought the raise the school method would work I might agree, though I doubt it. The easiest thing to do is walk away. Since when did being easy make it right. I heard in one meeting "don't take the high road, do what is right", meaning leave the building. It was the first I heard the high road and the right road were two different routes. As for the faculty, I wish them well. That said, there is nothing cruel about following the precedent set by every group that has walked this path before us. We were dealt a short straw and I honestly feel we would be teaching our children the wrong lesson by not showing them you can pick up the pieces and not let some coward control you that way. Leaving the school, or in the very least the grounds, is akin to not getting back on the horse, of course you may be hard to after being thrown but we all know what you are supposed to do...
JMJM Chip January 26, 2013 at 03:00 PM
That was almost exactly what I was going to write. I grew up by the flag pole on west street and was raised through the public school system. My wife and I are now living in Sandy Hook off Narragansett and our kids attend St Rose, so we were fortunate to not be 'directly' effected. I have many thoughts, but no ones thoughts matter more than the families directly effected and the teachers and staff.
JMJM Chip January 26, 2013 at 03:03 PM
Thank you for taking the time to write such a beautiful poem~
A.P.W January 27, 2013 at 12:46 AM
The last word should be up to the staff. Can they do their jobs and do them well in that building? Also, I don't think people who didn't have children there that day should have any say in what is done. It does not impact you.
Michael Cragin January 27, 2013 at 12:03 PM
if every spot that a person was killed by a firearm was deemed Sacred and Private.......half the square footage of this nation would be a memorial. Every 10 ft you would pass by a memorial.....he took our kids....and adults...now he takes the school and all it costs to raze that one and then what it costs for a new one....Life is not all emotion or all reasoning....its in the middle
Allison Koziol January 27, 2013 at 01:31 PM
I'm an SHS mom who happens to be currently working in the field of clinical mental health. I have written to the editors of both the Patch and the Newtown Bee with great information about how we do have the ability to return to SHS. Neither has posted my letter. In that letter I have included input from both my coworkers and the survivors of Columbine with whom I've been corresponding about their experiences. From everything that I've learned through what research I've been able to do the resounding message is, let the kids that can go back do so. Unfortunately, the loudest voices are going to get the results that they want and it seems that the folks who are of the mindset to go back are not being very loud or possibly not being allowed to be. Also, we've been told that the vote is out of our hands. There will be a committee of people deciding our fate. If those people are members of the BOE then we don't stand a chance. I've already seen members quoted in local media about how we should raze the school. Sadly, those members aren't even from Sandy Hook.
Allison Koziol January 27, 2013 at 02:06 PM
Tom, we're long-term Sandy Hookers like you. We're currently on our 13th year in SHS and we also have great memories. The difference is that, if we're talking needs, my child doesn't need a place where she can go to remember what she lost that day. She needs to go back to "her school" so she can continue the healing process. She needs to take her power and control back from what happened to her on that day. She needs to be able to return to the place she loves so much and see that the horror is over and it's okay to be in that place where she built so many great memories and she can build more. That wouldn't mean forgetting the people who passed that day. That would mean not letting the horrible thing that happened have power over her world from that day forward. She asks me continually when she gets to go back to "my school." Tearing down the school may work for some but not for everyone. Unfortunately, there are so many voices speaking out, even those who don't have to care for a survivor daily, who are convinced that demolishing the school is the ONLY answer. It's the only answer for those that want or need that but it's NOT the answer for the rest of us.
JED January 27, 2013 at 02:09 PM
Oh but it does, APW! Where do you think the funds will come from to build a new school?
Richard Hooker January 27, 2013 at 02:10 PM
Outsiders have NO say in this. This is about SHES; Victims, Children, Staff, and first responders. Point blank. No argument, no debate. No vote. Thank you out of towners for your negative comments, and selfish insights. You can step down now. All others who continually push their views onto others(in my opinion), and repeat the same rhetoric over and over at meetings, and in other forums, are not going to be taken into consideration. If you have anything GOOD or helpful to add, then by all means do so. Telling people what to do, instead of suggesting, is not the way to go about it.
JED January 27, 2013 at 02:10 PM
Spot on, michael.
Allison Koziol January 27, 2013 at 02:17 PM
Fred, with the use of immersion therapy I personally took the time to take my daughter back to the firehouse in an attempt to take back one of the places that she loved so dearly. At first she was reluctant and a bit shaken. It was difficult for me, as a mother, to put my child through something that looked painful but I knew she needed to take back her power. The color went out of her face and she didn’t want to interact with anyone there. I did not force her to interact because, after all, it wasn’t about others it was about her. I made sure that her oldest sister and I stayed physically close and I spoke in a very calm and soothing voice. I pointed out the positive things she remembered of the firehouse from her previous visits as an SHS student. We talked about how much she loved her previous trips there and how much she loved getting and wearing her plastic fire hat. We spoke about how it may have been scary there on Dec. 14th but I reminded her to look around and see that it was no longer that scary place but had returned to the place she had previously loved. I took her to the back room where she had to wait for me on that day. We talked about how cool it was back there and how there were so many friendly people there. By the time we left she had a smile on her face, a stuffed animal in one hand, some dried apple snacks in the other, and she was no longer afraid of her beloved firehouse. We can drive by there now without incident.
Fred January 27, 2013 at 09:38 PM
My child was in there and towns should not make long term decisions based on the present student body or staff. If you build a new school a kinder-gardener today might be use the new building for, best case, two years. Faculty come and go, as they should. No other school this has happened too relocated. They remodeled and reconfigured. Why are we different? Newtown Strong, no?
Fred January 28, 2013 at 12:07 AM
Richard Mann - all these comments, from local and otherwise, are what the owners of the patch, a national syndicate of sites, want. It helps verify readership to advertisers. If they did not want the comments they would not approve them. How do we even know if you with name withheld, are local... It is just a comment board....
P Celtic January 28, 2013 at 01:44 AM
Allison Koziol - I agree with you, as do many. I also agree we are not the loud ones. The first quote I saw was from a BOE person who said he thought the building should be razed. I have had press call me after standing up at the first meeting and I have not returned their calls. I am afraid I may be pointing into the wind on this, but I will call them back now. I have left meetings and then read the articles and they are definitely selectively quoting - people afraid to return sells more, tragedy is what attracts press, not overcoming and healing, unfortunately. I feel my son will be hurt by not being allowed to go back and have two younger. There may be some who cannot return, though far less than claimed. That should not hold others back or deny those not yet born a school on a lot you cant replace - local, manageable size, level private lot next to a firehouse. One person at the last meeting for the parents (I know you were there) brought up the blackly comic fact that they want to get away from the SHE location to go to Fairfield Hills, which certainly has the most tragic history of any real estate in town. It was at that meeting it finally dawned on me where the "sacred ground" drum beat is coming from, fear. I felt stupid for taking so long to figure it out. Not going back is the easiest thing, it is not the best thing for the largest amount of children and staff. Sadly, trying to convince many of that is like trying to convince a child to take unpalatable medicine.
Allison Koziol January 28, 2013 at 03:18 AM
I had a pleasant email exchange with one of the staff for the Patch and it looks as though my letter will be posted tomorrow. It lays out in more detail the journey that I've taken in making my decision with my child. As for the meeting, you're right. I was there. As a matter of fact I stood and spoke, one of the few voices that spoke in favor of going back. I found that the gentleman with the, as you so beautifully put it, "blackly comic" comment was spot on. It would be a great irony and injustice if SHS was moved to FFH for the argument of not going back to a site where such tragedy took place. As for the fact that not going back is easy, the most important part of parenting is the hard part. I'm just hoping that enough of us who believe that those that can go back should be allowed to will now be willing to speak up. I'm not saying that those whose children can't should be forced to see it my way. I would NEVER presume to tell someone what's best for their child in this situation. However, I also don't want people to try to force me to concede to what I know is not best for mine.
Thomas Crafts January 28, 2013 at 10:51 AM
who put you in charge, Dick?
Lynn Edwards January 28, 2013 at 01:25 PM
After hearing and reading fellow Sandy Hook School parents' opinions, and learning more and reading from the experiences of other school shooting victims, my opinion is changing and I would now most likely support renovating the front rooms and lobby of our school and returning there. I still think there probably will be some children and perhaps even some teachers who may not be able to go back, but I think returning will be best in the long run for the majority of our children and teachers, and for the whole community. Our collective emotions while we are all so recently traumatized are making it even more difficult to make the best decision for our children and our community. I think there are good reasons why places of mass shootings historically are not razed and rebuilt -- the real, lasting benefits to all of us, including our children, of returning to continue to build good memories of learning and teaching and growing will get us through this as stronger and happier children and adults. With that said, if too many teachers would rather leave than go back, then I would support building a new school in Sandy Hook on the same campus or available adjacent property (not Fairfield Hills). Our teachers have made SHS the exceptional place that it is, and even though "teachers come and go," I want our teachers to stay. I truly hope they all will.
John Smith January 28, 2013 at 01:26 PM
Interestingly, there tends to be a very militant and intolerant tone from those insisting that the current school should be demolished.
SDK January 30, 2013 at 01:59 AM
Perhaps they can take a secret ballot of some kind from everyone whose children were affected as well as all the staff, with room for anonymous comments. It makes little sense for those who were not there and those who would not have to go back to make decisions for those who were and do.
Roseanne January 30, 2013 at 02:16 PM
Yes, we must face and go forth. Destruction is wrong anyway it is presented. Ask the teachers if they favor remodeling. Most of the children will favor their parents fears.
Roseanne January 30, 2013 at 02:38 PM
If we redistrict, we are loosing Sandy Hook, Ct. We lost our Post Office, the "Newtown High School" is in Sandy Hook. I have been in Sandy Hook for 23+ years. It may be nicer in Newtown, but it's Spectacularly Sweeter in Sandy Hook!!
Roseanne January 30, 2013 at 02:44 PM
Is the Sandy Hook Fire House going to stop having their annual Lobster Fest?
Roseanne January 30, 2013 at 02:49 PM
Thomas Crafts you make me laugh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!out loud!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Rick Jones February 03, 2013 at 12:31 PM
I'm from next door in Brookfield. We share your grief as best we can. While not physically in Newtown, our family has certainly until iced many wonderful resources in your beautiful town over the years. Our girls attended Lathrop Dance for over 10yeaes. One daughters wedding rehearsal dinner was at the Villa. Ferris Creamery has the finest ice cream ever and is a wonderful location, etc. What you ultimately decide for SHES is entirely up to Newtown, I'll respect whatever decision. But some people here have to understand that this is far more than a financial decision. It"s more the long term emotional impact on everyone even remotely directly involved, teachers, students, staff, town officials and even the first responders who might someday have to return to the scene for any sort of emergency. Financially, I'm sure that we as a country can provide justified billions for Katrina, sandy and other natural disaster relief, we can also pitch in to relieve Newtown of a substantial portion of this burden. Finally, when the people of Sandy Hook / Newtown decide of some sort of a Permenat memorial (something kid friendly seems awfully nice and appropriate JMO), we'd love to be able to volunteer in it's contruction. It's the least we can do to show our solidarity. God bless our neighbors.
Lois Imbriano Barber March 02, 2013 at 02:19 AM
Meagahn, I also agree with you and you phrased it so well. My children attended Sandy Hook but they are adults now. SH was their favorite school and they feel so sad that future children from Sandy Hook won't have their experiences, but the school is changed forever. I cannot ever imagine sending children back into that school. Some of the 20 children have younger siblings. How can they ever go into that building day after day when they become school age? We need to let the voices of the families and the current staff and children be who the town listens to. Perhaps a Memorial in the front and a satellite Sandy Hook Police Station in the rear. The Police need more room and were looking to take over the Reed School.
Lois Imbriano Barber March 02, 2013 at 04:03 AM
If we build a new school, perhaps it should not be in Fairfield Hills because the traffic on 34 leading to up to FairField Hills is pretty bad. It's how many commuters get to 84.
Sam Mihailoff April 23, 2013 at 10:08 PM
ROFL

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