— Christine Wilford said that her second-grade son, Richard, wants to go back to Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"Granted, he did not see a lot," Wilford said of her son's experience during the massacre at the school on Dec. 14.
It's just that some aspects of the new school — Chalk Hill in Monroe — are unfamiliar and scary. Chalk Hill has two floors, unlike the one-story Sandy Hook. When students move chairs on the second floor, the sounds are jarring to children on the first floor, "which is setting off a lot of triggers," Wilford said.
Wilford was among more than 200 people who gathered Sunday afternoon in an auditorium at Newtown High School to discuss the future of Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was the first of three public meetings to gather ideas. Monday is the one-month anniversary of the shooting that left 20 students and six female educators dead, not including the gunman and his mother.
Ideas abound. Some have said that the building should be razed. Some want it to remain Sandy Hook Elementary School. Others suggested a park, a planetarium, a senior center, a memorial. Some suggested renovating the school, or demolishing it and building a new school at nearby Treadwell Park.
One possibility that drew the strongest reactions: Sending elementary students back to class in the building where gunfire echoed through the halls.
"It's still going to be a horrible place with horrible memories," said one man, who promised that he will not send his son back there. "My wife and I are not going to walk into that school, as a school."
Many were tearful as they spoke into one of two microphones, facing an audience that applauded at several points. Paramount to anything else, the town should consider the will of parents of Sandy Hook students, and residents of the village within Newtown, several people said.
Newtown First Selectman E. Patricia Llodra told the audience that she will meet privately with Sandy Hook families on two separate dates.
"It's very important we give them an opportunity to talk with me," Llodra said.
Sandy Hook students started attending classes on Jan. 3 at Chalk Hill, and parents described how uneasy the transition has been. One parent said a child has been singing the Sandy Hook school song. Several said their children don't want to go back to Sandy Hook. Others are eager to return.
Tatiana Cook said her son, a second-grader, told her that Chalk Hill isn't like his old school, and asked her when he could go back. She explained to him that Sandy Hook "is broken ... we don't know if we can fix it."
State police have covered the windows at Sandy Hook with plywood, and a fence has been put up around the school to keep people out.
One of the more stirring speeches came from Newtown High senior Mergim Bajraliu, 17.
"A few days ago, I sat down with my little sister, Venesa, who was at the school that day only a few rooms away," Bajraliu said. "Just as many parents and siblings have so far, I asked her what she thought about the new Chalk Hill School. Her response was, 'I guess it's cool. I like the lockers and everything, but I really miss Sandy Hook School.' Ladies and gentlemen, I speak before you today in support of keeping Sandy Hook School."
He reminisced about a Jolly Green Giant Fair, treks through the woods to Treadwell Park, sack races on the field and a field trip to the volunteer fire department.
"If we were to knock the school down, we'd be losing the culture, that same Sandy Hook School feel that we all love and feel nostalgic about," Bajraliu said, adding, "One psychopath, whom I refuse to name, has unfortunately done his damage. … We can't let him do anymore damage. We can't let his cruel acts go any further. … His damage ended on Dec. 14th."
Llodra started the meeting by saying that she has been in touch with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's office, as well as state and federal legislators who represent Newtown. It isn't clear how much state and federal money might be available to the town if residents decide to tear down the school or renovate it. Llodra said the process has to start by figuring out what residents want to do with the property, and where they would like the children to go to school in the long run.
"This process will take months and months and months," Llodra said.
As the meeting progressed, one general theme became clear: parents would like to see the Sandy Hook students stay together, instead of splitting them into different school districts. Many Sandy Hook residents also would like to have a school in Sandy Hook.
Llodra said, to much applause, "I think everyone agrees, we need to bring our Sandy Hook students home."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times