What Should Newtown Do With Sandy Hook?

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 14 2013 9:44 AM

What Should Newtown Do With Sandy Hook Elementary?

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A sign welcoming children from Sandy Hook Elementry school sits on the road in Monroe, Conn., on Jan. 3, 2013

Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.

Newtown, Conn., residents gathered at a local high school last night to discuss what exactly to do with Sandy Hook Elementary, the site of last month's massacre that left 20 students and six staff members dead. The difficult question of what to do with a building that will forever be linked with the tragic shooting serves as something of a proxy for the larger dilemma parents, students, and the rest of the community now faces: how to balance the somewhat competing desires to move on with their lives while still not forgetting those who lost theirs.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

The New York Times explains that local opinions are, as one might expect, all over the place. Among those options being discussed include reopening it, renovating it, transforming it into some type of memorial to the victims, or knocking it down all together. Here were a couple of the more powerful arguments captured by the Times.

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Audra Barth, who has two children at the school, on why it should be reopened:

"My children have had everything taken away from them," she said. Referring to the numerous gifts, including candy, that had been donated since the shooting, she added, "Chocolate is great, but they need their school."

Stephanie Carson, whose son was at the school on the day of the shooting, on why it should be knocked to the ground:

"I cannot ask my son or any of the people at the school to ever walk back into that building, and he has asked to never go back," she said. "I know that there are children who were there who have said they would like to go back to Sandy Hook. However, the reality is we have to be so careful. Even walking down the halls, the children become so scared at any unusual sound. I don’t see how it would be possible."

Those who wish to see the school closed forever don't necessarily want the event erased from the community's collective memory: Among the ideas floated last night include turning the site into a planetarium, and converting it into a center for peace education.

Newtown, of course, isn't the first community to face the uncomfortable decision it now does. Residents of Littleton, Colo., ultimately decided to keep Columbine High School open (although the library was converted into a glass atrium), and Virginia Tech opted to turn the building that was the site of its 2007 shooting into the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention. The Aurora, Colo., movie theater where 70 people were shot this summer, meanwhile, is set to reopen this week.

While it will likely be months before a final decision about Sandy Hook is made, the community seems to have largely agreed on one thing: The elementary school's students should be kept together for the next several years and not split up among a handful of others schools, as had been discussed last year before the shooting. That plan, according to local officials, is no longer under consideration.