Newtown officials have organized a series of Community Conversations designed specifically to encourage an open discussion about what to do with the Sandy Hook Elementary School building in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting.
The conversations will take place in the Lecture Hall of Newtown High School on the following dates:
- Jan. 13, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- Jan. 18, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Due to seating and safety constraints (the Lecture Hall accommodates approximately 150 people), a third gathering, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 25, will be added if needed.
“The conversations will focus initially on what are the options and opportunities and to hear input from the community,” First Selectman Pat Llodra said Wednesday at a Legislative Council meeting.
Before all the options can fully be assessed, the town has to find out what financial support the state may be able to offer, Llodra pointed out. However, she said, that will be clear before the first conversation.
“It’s critical that we get clarity on what the state is willing to do for us, to what what extent the state has the resources to help us execute a plan,” she said. “That is unknown still but it will be known before the 13th."
Llodra said the intent is for the meetings to be “structured events,” which will be moderated while allowing for the community voice to be heard. "We all agree that is the most important thing here,” she said.
“There’s no road map here, we’re creating these processes as we go along,” she said.
Members of the Board of Selectmen (BOS), Board of Education (BOE), Board of Finance (BOF) and Legislative Council will be on hand to listen and they will ultimately use the community’s input to make a final decision.
Llodra added that the planned Conversations are not the only way to give input. She encouraged residents to call or stop by Town Hall, as well.
“There are no limits on people of the community communicating with any members of the government through any media,” she said. “The purpose of having the community discussion is to have a real opportunity for people to come together.”
Even before the Community Conversations were organized the fate of Sandy Hook Elementary has been a topic on many residents' minds. Immediately following the shooting, which claimed the life of 20 students and six educators, parents began to question whether their children would ever feel comfortable returning to the school after witnessing such horrific violence there.
“No amount of time could make it OK to go back in that school,” said Lisa Keane, a resident of Glen Road in Sandy Hook and the mother of a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old who attends Hawley School.
Another Sandy Hook resident, Gary Zemola, said, "The best thing to do is raze that school and make it a park."
"Tear it down" has been another common phrase from residents over the past few weeks. Some have noted, though, that whether a new school is built — on the existing Sandy Hook grounds or elsewhere — should also be considered from a strategic perspective that takes into account student enrollment.
Indeed, as Newtown faces declining enrollment the possible closure of a school has been discussed several times over the past few years and as recently as October at a Board of Education meeting.
Other residents have noted that, unlike many Fairfield County towns, Newtown is in the favorable position of having ample property on which it could build a new school, including the Fairfield Hills Campus, if that is in fact the consensus reached.
In the meantime, as the Community Conversation begins, Sandy Hook Elementary remains closed as a crime scene while the police investigation continues. And Sandy Hook students will finish out the year in neighboring Monroe, at a school formerly called Chalk Hill.
What do you think the town should do with Sandy Hook Elementary School?