George Benson. Newtown director of land use, gives input during a hearing at the Newtown Council Chamber as the members of the Sandy Hook Task Force try to
George Benson. Newtown director of land use, gives input during a hearing at the Newtown Council Chamber as the members of the Sandy Hook Task Force try to come to an agreement on a new Sandy Hook Elementary School. (Peter Casolino)

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Local officials debating the future of Sandy Hook Elementary School following a December school shooting decided Friday the school belongs in its original home — but in a new building.

A 28-member Newtown, Conn., task force voted unanimously late Friday to construct a new school on the existing site of the old Sandy Hook school. The decision was made after considering 40 locations, deliberating for weeks and hearing input from countless residents.

First Selectman Patricia Llodra said the new school would cost between $42 million and $47 million, whether it was built at a new location, which would require a great deal of site work, or the current school site, which will require the existing building to be demolished.

Council member Jeffrey Capeci speaks during a hearing at the Newtown Council Chamber as the members of the Sandy Hook Task Force try to come to an
Council member Jeffrey Capeci speaks during a hearing at the Newtown Council Chamber as the members of the Sandy Hook Task Force try to come to an agreement on a new Sandy Hook Elementary School. (Peter Casolino)

Task force members, who are on the boards of selectmen, finance and education and the Legislative Council, expressed concerns about how either choice would affect people emotionally.

The current site always will elicit memories of Dec. 14, when a gunman shot and killed 20 children and six adults at the school in the nation's deadliest school shooting.

Task force members said local residents have told them they did not want to return to the original Sandy Hook location — especially not to the current building. Member James Gatson said he also thinks about the families that might move to Sandy Hook and how they would feel about their young children attending the school.

Member John Vouros suggested allowing those affected by the tragedy to tour the site, especially after the old school is torn down and the new one is under construction.

"I'm finally at peace with the fact that ... a decision will be made. I'm hoping it's on the site the school is on now, because I think it can be created in such a beautiful way,' he said before the vote.

However, alternative sites would require officials to consider eminent domain actions on current property owners, which could result in possible length legal proceedings should the current owners contest the move. 

Rich Harwood, moderator, leads the discussion during a hearing at the Newtown Council Chamber.
Rich Harwood, moderator, leads the discussion during a hearing at the Newtown Council Chamber. (Peter Casolino)

"We're doing harm to a lot of people in that area, and that doesn't seem right, especially when we have another viable spot,' task force member Philip Carroll said.

Resident Michael Coppola later agreed, saying during public comment, "Let's not hurt anyone else and take away their homes.'

Additionally, the old Sandy Hook Elementary School is visible from that site because of its higher elevation, members noted.

Newtown High School senior Mergim Bajraliu, a former Sandy Hook student, said he preferred that the old building stay, but was pleased the existing site was a final contender. His younger sister also was attending the school on the day of the shootings.

"Call me crazy, call me insensitive, but I'd go back to that school tomorrow. I understand it's not an option anymore, and that upsets me. But I see hope that you're considering the current Sandy Hook site,' Bajraliu said.

Sandy Hook students have been attending school at the former Chalk Hill Middle School in Monroe.

Llodra complimented the task force for its work after the vote, saying the effort was "quite extraordinary' and took a significant commitment from members. The 50-person crowd gave the group a standing ovation.

Hardwood said it was important to take time to talk about all issues related to the various sites and listen to the public and each other.

"Not everyone in the community is going to be happy at the end,' he said. "No matter what decision you make, it still may not feel like a good decision because we can't rewind the clock back to before December 14.'