NEWTOWN, Conn. – When the public gets its first glimpse Friday of the school built to replace the one where 20 first-graders and six educators were massacred, they'll see a building designed to be attractive, environmentally friendly, conducive to learning, and above all, safe.
The old Sandy Hook Elementary School was torn down after the gunman's rampage in December 2012. The new $50 million, 86,000-square-foot school was built on the same property but not in the old footprint, and is scheduled to open next month. A media tour will precede a public open house on Friday.
Local officials hope that allowing everyone a look at the school this week will give students a "quiet, respectful, and appropriate opening as teachers and students return to the new school year," on Aug. 29, Superintendent Joseph Erardi said.
The new school, funded by a state grant, has safety features such as impact-resistant windows and state-of-the-art video monitoring. Its ground floor is elevated, making it harder to see inside classrooms from the outside. It has been landscaped to ensure anyone approaching the school is visible to those inside and can enter via one of three pedestrian bridges that cross the landscaping.
It has been built to invoke nature, with treehouses and courtyards.
The driveway and parking lots also have been changed, to minimize the emotional impact on students and educators seeing the property for the first time since the shooting.
"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," First Selectman Pat Llodra said in a statement.
Sandy Hook students have been attending school in neighboring Monroe, which renovated a previously closed elementary school for the Newtown children after the shooting. The new school will serve students from pre-kindergarten through fourth grade.
There will be about 390 students enrolled this fall, and 70 of those, all now fourth-graders, were students at the old school when the shooting occurred, Erardi said. Only about 30 of them were in the building at the time, he said, attending the morning kindergarten session.
None of them witnessed the shootings, which were heard throughout the school, prompting students to hide where they could in their classrooms until the building was cleared by police. The shooting occurred before the afternoon kindergarten session.
Because of retirements and transfers, only about half the staff members from the original Sandy Hook are still with the school, he said.
The district will provide those students and staff with special resources to help cope with the return, Erardi said.
A three-year, $7.1 million grant to fund added mental health professionals has expired. But grants from charities will cover those costs, he said.
It will not have a prominent memorial to the Sandy Hook victims, and Erardi declined to say whether they will be remembered in some other way.
"I'm going to pass on answering that," he said, "because it involves the conversations I've had with the impacted families and those will always remain confidential.