Panel: Tear down, rebuild Sandy Hook school

NEWTOWN, Conn. — A task force of elected officials on Friday recommended tearing down the Connecticut elementary school where 20 first-graders and six educators were shot dead in December and rebuilding on the site.

The group of 28 Newtown elected officials voted unanimously in favor of a plan that would construct a new building on the property where the existing Sandy Hook Elementary School is located. The proposal now goes to the local school board and ultimately before voters as a referendum.

Parent Daniel Krauss, whose daughter is a second-grader, said he was pleased by the panel’s recommendation.

“It’s been a place for learning, for kids to grow up and it’s going to go back to that,” he said after attending the meeting at the Newtown Municipal Center.

Krauss’s daughter is among the 430 surviving students who now are attending a renovated school renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School in the neighboring town of Monroe.

Peter Barresi spoke out against abandoning the current school property and rebuilding elsewhere. His son is a first-grader whose classroom was on the other side of the school from where the shootings happened.

Barresi said he worried that if a new school was built elsewhere, “We didn’t just lose 20 children and six adults, we’re letting him (the gunman) take the building too.”

The Sandy Hook School Building Task Force had previously narrowed a list of choices to renovating or rebuilding on the school site or building a new school on property down the street. A study found building a new school on the existing site would cost $57 million.

If all goes well, officials said construction could begin in the spring of next year and the new building could open in January 2016.

Plans under consideration call for a building with a shape that resembles homes and barns built in town in the 1700s and 1800s and 26 glass cupolas on the roof with spires “pointed towards heaven” in remembrance of the 26 victims, according to a report compiled for the task force.

Sandy Hook Elementary School hasn’t housed students since the killings. Some town residents said the school should be torn down because they couldn’t imagine sending children back there. Others favored renovating the school, with some saying that tearing it down would be a victory for evil.

Last week, several teachers told the task force that they didn’t want to return to the property.

Laura Roche, a member of the Sandy Hook School Task Force, said it’s been “very emotional and very hard” to come to a decision about the school’s future. But she was pleased by the unanimous vote, a signal the panel was united.

“We came together as 28, and I hope we can come together as a community to rebuild the spirit of our community and build the school together,” she said.

Several parents said it was important that children return to a school in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown as soon as possible.

Residents of towns where other mass school shootings occurred have grappled with the same dilemma. Some have renovated, some have demolished.

Columbine High School in Colorado, where two student gunmen killed 12 schoolmates and a teacher in 1999, reopened several months afterward. Crews removed the library, where most of the victims died, and replaced it with an atrium.

Virginia Tech converted a classroom building where a student gunman killed 32 people and himself in 2007 into a peace studies and violence prevention center. And an Amish community in Pennsylvania tore down the West Nickel Mines Amish School and built a new school a few hundred yards away after a gunman killed five girls there in 2006.

On the morning of Dec. 14, gunman Adam Lanza, who had killed his mother at their Newtown home, went to Sandy Hook Elementary School and opened fire with an assault rifle, killing the 20 children and the six adults. He killed himself as police arrived at the school.

The school shooting, one of the deadliest in U.S. history, has spurred national debate about gun control and Second Amendment rights.

Police have not disclosed possible motives for the Newtown killings. Law enforcement officials have said Lanza showed an interest in other mass killings and played violent video games.

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