NEWTOWN, Conn. – Talk about Sandy Hook Elementary School is turning from last month's massacre to the future, with differing opinions on whether students and staff should ever return to the building where a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators.
Some Newtown residents say the school should be demolished and a memorial built on the property in honor of the victims killed Dec. 14. Others believe the school should be renovated and the areas where the killings occurred removed, like Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., after the 1999 mass shooting.
Those appear to be the two prevailing proposals as the community prepares for public hearings on the school's fate Sunday afternoon and Jan. 18 at Newtown High School. Town officials also are planning private meetings with the victims' families to get their input.
One of Newtown's selectmen, Jim Gaston, said the building's future has become a popular topic of discussion around town.
"It's pretty raw, but people are talking about it," he said. "We'd like to hear from as many people as we can."
It's a bittersweet discussion for parents and former students who have many good memories of Sandy Hook Elementary School, the site where Adam Lanza shot his way into the building and carried out the massacre before committing suicide as police arrived.
"I'm very torn," said Laurie Badick, of Newtown, whose children attended the school several years ago. "Sandy Hook school meant the world to us before this happened. ... I have my memories in my brain and in my heart, so the actual building, I think the victims need to decide what to do with that."
Susan Gibney, who lives in Sandy Hook, said she purposely doesn't drive by the school because it's too disturbing. She has three children in high school, but they didn't attend Sandy Hook Elementary School. She believes the building should be torn down.
"I wouldn't want to have to send my kids back to that school," said Gibney, 50. "I just don't see how the kids could get over what happened there."
Fran Bresson, a retired police officer who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School in the 1950s, wants the school to reopen, but he thinks the hallways and classrooms where staff and students were killed should be demolished.
"To tear it down completely would be like saying to evil, 'You've won,'" the 63-year-old Southbury resident said.
Residents of towns where mass shootings occurred have grappled with the same dilemma. Some have renovated, some have demolished.
Columbine High School, where two student gunmen killed 12 schoolmates and a teacher, reopened several months afterward. Crews removed the library, where most of the victims died, and replaced it with an atrium.
On an island in Norway where 69 people — more than half of them teenagers attending summer camp — were killed by a gunman in 2011, extensive remodeling is planned. The main building, a cafeteria where 13 of the victims died, will be torn down.
Virginia Tech converted a classroom building where a student gunman killed 30 people in 2007 into a peace studies and violence prevention center.
An Amish community in Pennsylvania tore down the West Nickel Mines Amish School and built a new school a few hundred yards away after a gunman killed five girls there in 2006.
Until Newtown decides what to do, Sandy Hook students will continue attending a school renovated specially for them about 7 miles away in a neighboring town.
Newtown First Selectwoman E. Patricia Llodra said that in addition to the community meetings, the town is planning private gatherings with the victims' families to talk about the school's future. She said the aim is to finalize a plan by March.
"I think we have to start that conversation now," Llodra said. "It will take many, many months to do any kind of school project. We have very big decisions ahead of us. The goal is to bring our students home as soon as we can."