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Newtown officials wrestle with Sandy Hook's fate

7:27 AM, May 4, 2013   |    comments
(Photo courtesy of USA Today)
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(USA TODAY) -- A local task force of elected officials was unable to agree Friday night on the fate of Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six adults were killed by a gunman Dec. 14.

Town officials had said the task force might vote to decide the fate of the school, because the 28-member task force narrowed its options at previous meetings, according to Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra.

The task force was expected to decide whether to renovate the school, demolish it and build a new school on the existing property, or build a new school at a nearby site in Sandy Hook.

Some task force members, though, raised the idea of additional locations for a new school, while others asked if it was possible to combine Sandy Hook Elementary School students with Newtown students who attend Reed School, now used by the town's fifth and sixth graders.

Members of the task force were obviously emotionally affected by a prior 50-minute, closed-door executive meeting before their scheduled public meeting.

At the closed-door meeting, teachers and officials of Sandy Hook Elementary expressed concern about returning to a school at the site of the shootings.

Task force member Laura Roche said some staff members feel they "can't go back" to that building and the task force hadn't had "an emotional conversation" about the staff's feelings.

"Certain people in the community might not be able to go back there," she said.

The meeting was the task force's fourth meeting, and it is scheduled to meet again May 10.

Roche and task force member John Vouros said the town should consider building a new school on town land called Fairfield Hills, which accommodates the Newtown Municipal Center, where the task force meeting was held.

The town bought Fairfield Hills, the site of a former state mental hospital many years ago, and much of the land is undeveloped.

Task force member Dan Wiedemann questioned whether a new school should be built or the existing school should be renovated.

He said Reed School is facing declining enrollment and might be able to accommodate the Sandy Hook students.

With enrollment declining, he said spending $40 to $60 million to build a new school or renovate the existing school "doesn't make fiscal sense to me."

Prior to the meeting, Llodra said the task force "is disappointed" that it does not "have better options."

"It is hard to accept that our months of study and hard work has not provided us with greater flexibility," Llodra said.

Once the task force makes its decision it will pass it on to the Newtown Board of Education, according to the first selectman.

The decision is not binding on the board, but board members serve on the task force, and local officials expect the board to adopt the decision.

According to an April study done by the town's Sandy Hook Advisory Committee, renovation of the school would cost $48 million, and building a new school would cost $56 to $60 million.

Renovation could be completed in 17 months, and a new school could be constructed within 19 months, the study says.

Whatever the board's final decision, it is unlikely to satisfy all of the town's residents.

"We have that awful task of making a decision that will probably displease many," Llorda says.

 

USA Today

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