New Sandy Hook school balances beauty and safety

New elementary school prepares to open on the same property of the 2012 massacre, but with extensive new security features and an artistic redesign.

Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters
The front of the newly constructed Sandy Hook Elementary School, built to replace the building torn down after a gunman shot dead 20 young children and six educators in a 2012 massacre, is pictured in Newtown, Conn., Friday.

Four years after the Sandy Hook massacre, the new Sandy Hook Elementary School is opening: redesigned to be attractive, but also safe.

The new site features no obvious memorial of the horrendous events that took place in the former, circa 1956 school that occupied the same land in 2012, when a disturbed young man, Adam Lanza, killed 20 first-graders and six educators in the Newtown, Conn., school.

The new, 86,000 square foot school is forest themed, featuring wave-like wooden panelling and three courtyards. In order to get into the school, however, visitors are required to pass through a driveway gate, a rain garden that resembles a moat, and two police at the front, all being watched over by video surveillance. The windows are bullet-proof.

Past and new Sandy Hook students will return to a building with an elevated ground floor, making it difficult to see inside. Landscaping is designed to make it easy to spot anyone approaching the building.

"Our goal was to create a place of community and learning, a place that would honor those we lost and allow those who were left behind the chance to move forward," said Pat Llodra, the town’s first selectman. 

"Let me state unequivocally that we would trade in a minute this beautiful new school for the more familiar and ancient Sandy Hook school, built in the '50s, if we could just change the past," he said. 

The new $50 million, state-grant funded school was opened to the public on Friday, ahead of the August 29 start date, with Superintendent Joseph Erardi saying he hoped that the media fascination would pass by then to allow a "quiet, respectful, and appropriate opening as teachers and students return to the new school year."

Of the 390 students enrolled to return to the school this fall, 70 of those were enrolled at the time of the shooting.

School Principal Kathy Gombos said that while the transition to the new school is expected to be emotionally trying, so far the teachers, parents, and students who have visited have been smiling.

"There have been some tears, but I think after they spend about an hour or so here, they feel like it's going to be an unbelievable learning space for kids," said Ms. Gombos.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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