The Lookout

Newtown task force meets to decide future of Sandy Hook Elementary School

Firefighters hug near the entrance to Sandy Hook Elementary School, Dec. 21, 2012. (Dylan Stableford)

NEWTOWN, Conn.—Since the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, parents and pundits have debated what to do with the building itself—with ideas ranging from remodeling the school and building a memorial to the 26 victims to razing and rebuilding the school in another location.

Late last week, a task force composed of 28 Newtown officials charged with figuring out the future of the school and its students met here for the first time, establishing a set of ground rules and a timeline for delivering recommendations.

“There is no road map for this kind of process,” Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra said Friday during the first of five scheduled meetings, according to the Newtown Bee. “We come as elected representatives faced with a significant, serious challenge.”

[Related: In Newtown, a gun debate does not rage on—at least in public]

The group hopes to deliver a plan to the Board of Education by May 3. The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, a Bethesda, Md.-based consulting firm, is assisting with the proposals.

Sandy Hook Elementary School has remained closed since the shootings, with students attending classes at Chalk Hill School in nearby Monroe.

A set of 10 principles were presented by the task force, based on private meetings with parents and school officials:

• 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 group hopes the process will "lead to a finished school [that] embodies hope, learning, healing, and a caring community,” according to a summary distributed at the meeting.

The task force said it is considering 40 possible sites for the new Sandy Hook Elementary School, including the current location, Llodra said.

"The most important thing is that we don't get redistricted," Peter Baressi, a first responder and father of a Sandy Hook first-grader, said. "We are part of Newtown."

Baressi continued: "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 fast to get our kids back to an elementary school."

The task force cautioned that it would take compromise in order to achieve that goal.

"There's no solution that's going to be 100 percent acceptable to any population," Llodra said. "There's no perfect solution here. The perfect solution for the town of Newtown would be if this didn't happen to us."

[Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of elected officials on the task force. There are 28—27 were in attendance at the meeting; one member was ill and unable to attend.]

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