SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY'S FUTURE UNCERTAIN@<
(For use by New York Times News Service clients.)@<
By KRISTEN V. BROWN and ANA LEY@
c.2012 Hearst Newspapers@
NEWTOWN, Conn. — The days when school bells summoned students to Sandy Hook Elementary School may be over.
In the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre that left 20 students and six teachers dead, dozens of residents indicated in interviews with the Danbury News-Times that the school should remain closed for good.
The memories, residents say, are too ghastly for classes ever to be held at Sandy Hook again.
"It should be demolished," said John Vouros, a member of the Newtown Board of Education.
Though the board has not yet officially discussed what might become of Sandy Hook Elementary, Vouros said a new school should be built elsewhere.
Following such tragedies, spaces rarely remain the same.
After two students sprayed Columbine High School in Colorado with bullets in 1999, leaving 13 dead, the second-floor library became an atrium, blood-soaked carpeting replaced with new tile.
At Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, where a student killed 30 teachers and students in 2007, the violence-scarred classrooms of Norris Hall are now home to the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention.
In Newtown, though, many are calling for the school to be razed, not reimagined.
Christine Wilford's 7-year-old son, Richie, was a survivor of the Dec. 14 shooting. Though her son wishes to return to the school, she said the family leans toward building a new one.
Her son, she said, was led out the school's back door, escaping most of the violent scenes. Other children were not so fortunate.
"There are so many bad memories for the children," she said. "There is so much terror and fear."
The road leading to Sandy Hook Elementary School is still impassible. Police instruct pedestrians to turn around, and neon-orange cones divert traffic.
The school remains an eerie crime scene, boarded up and cordoned off by razor wire and chain-link fencing, inaccessible to anyone without official business.
"Sandy Hook is sacred ground now," Wilford said.
Dale Neves, who was in the same Newtown High School class as 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza, said a memorial should replace the school.
"Because of everything that went down there, it wouldn't be right to go back to that school," said Neves, 21. "I think a memorial would be fit."
The tragedy should be acknowledged, said William Rodgers, one of three members of the Newtown Board of Selectmen.
"I personally think that it's inappropriate to return to that building. My preference is to see it razed," Rodgers said, adding that the selectmen have not taken any vote on the school's future yet. "It's adjacent to a park, so maybe they could be connected."
But that's not enough, he said.
"There has to be some type of memorial there, in addition to whatever other memorials are made around town," he said. "There needs to be some sort of tribute at the spot."
Long before this month's tragedy, discussion abounded in Newtown about whether to close one elementary school. Since 2006, kindergarten through fourth grade has seen a decline of 486 students in the district — approximately the size of one of Newtown's four elementary schools.
A decision had not been made, though in October school board President Debbie Leidlein proposed hiring a consultant to study the district's options — school closure, redistricting or no change at all.
If Sandy Hook, opened in 1956, were to remain permanently closed, school and city officials said, the student body could easily be absorbed into the district's remaining elementary schools.
The students of Sandy Hook Elementary will tentatively return to classes Jan. 3 at Chalk Hill School, a vacant middle school about seven miles away in Monroe, Conn. Plumbers, painters, teachers and parents are working through the holiday season to ensure the school resembles Sandy Hook. Walls will be painted the same colors; even old pictures and posters will be transferred from the old school.
Wilford, the Sandy Hook parent, was among many who suggested that in the aftermath of the tragedy, the students and teachers need to stay together whether or not the existing elementary schools could take in Sandy Hook's students.
"We'd like a new school so our kids can stay together," she said.
At Columbine High, an outpouring of donations after the 1999 shooting financed much of the school's $2.6 million renovation. Some have suggested donations to Newtown could similarly finance building a new school and a memorial on the old site.
On Saturday, officials with United Way of Western Connecticut announced just one of the funds established to help the community had so far received $2.8 million in donations.
Julian Revie, who lives in Canada but often visits Sandy Hook, said the tragedy has reminded many people in the community of the Sept. 11 attacks, and she pointed to the sites where the North and South towers of the World Trade Center once stood.
"The footprint of those towers is being left alone, and that site has been treated in a very respectful way," he said.
He also noted Newtown's proximity to New York City and the fact that many in the Newtown area were likely affected by the 2001 attacks.
"I actually sat beside a fellow who lost his girlfriend on 9/11 during a prayer service" on the night of the Newtown shooting, Revie said. "Here we are, an hour from New York City. . . . For a lot of people, it certainly reminds them of what happened then."
Marc Moorash had similar sentiments about the future of the school and the memory of Sept. 11. Though he didn't feel uneasy about eventually sending his own 1-year-old child to the school, he said many likely would, especially those directly affected by the tragedy.
"They'll tear it down and build something else. They have to," Moorash said. "How do you send anybody into those two rooms?"