Newtown, Conn., residents have voted to move ahead with the plan to demolish Sandy Hook Elementary School and build a new one at the site of one of the worst school massacres in U.S. history.
According to the Newtown registrar's office, more than 88 percent of 5,062 residents who cast ballots in Saturday's referendum voted to accept a $50 million grant from the state for the rebuilding plan.
Demolition is slated to begin later this month. The new facility is expected to open in January 2016 at the same address on Dickinson Drive where 26 people, including 20 children, were killed on Dec. 14, 2012, when a 20-year-old gunman opened fire inside the school.
Sandy Hook Elementary School has remained closed since the shootings. In January, the 430 surviving students were relocated to Chalk Hill School, a retrofitted facility in nearby Monroe.
"This was another hurdle overcome," Newtown Board of Education Chair Debbie Leidlein told the Newtown Bee. "Now we're ready. We've got great plans moving forward to bring our families home."
In May, a 28-person task force charged with deciding the future of Sandy Hook School narrowed the choices down to three: renovating the existing structure, building on a new site or building a new Sandy Hook Elementary School at its current location — the plan that the task force board ultimately submitted to the school board and was approved by residents on Saturday.
The recommendation came after five weeks of emotional, sometimes-contentious debate at public meetings.
"I will chain my body to it and to protest if they try to reopen it," Erica Lafferty, daughter of slain Sandy Hook Elementary School Principal Dawn Hochsprung, said after one of the meetings. "It should be knocked down. There should be some type of long-lasting memorial. I don't want people to walk into the building and say, 'Oh well, that's where Erica's mom got gunned down.' That's not OK."
Others disagreed. "It's not the building that was the problem," Steven Uhde, the father of a surviving Sandy Hook student, said. "It was someone in the wrong frame of mind."
The task force, though, knew it would not be able to please everyone.
"There's no solution that's going to be 100 percent acceptable to any population," Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra said in April at the panel's first meeting. "There's no perfect solution here. The perfect solution for the town of Newtown would be if this didn't happen to us."