Newtown residents overwhelmingly agreed to begin demolishing its painful past by razing the former Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 school kids and six educators were gunned down last year.
More than 5,000 people went to the polls Saturday to choose whether or not the town should accept a $50 million grant from the state to construct a new building at the site of last year’s shooting. The vote, which passed 4,504 to 558, was required because the grant exceeded the maximum amount declared in the state’s charter.
“It’s happiness, it’s progress, it’s moving forward, it’s making the town whole again,” John Vouros, a member of the Newtown Board of Education, told MSNBC.
The current Sandy Hook building closed on Dec. 14, 2012 after a gunman killed 20 first graders and six adults. Newtown students completed the 2012-2013 academic year and recently returned in August to Chalk Hill Middle School, which was formerly a vacant structure, located in nearby Monroe.
The town plans to bulldoze the current Sandy Hook building by early December before the one-year anniversary of the tragedy. The new school will be constructed on the same site–hopefully within two years–but nothing will stand where the massacre happened, Vouros said.
Town officials are set to meet with architects starting next week to decide on such topics as a memorial and the name of the new building.
Newtown isn’t the first community to try to ease a painful past with a new building. The West Nickel Mines School in Pennsylvania was reduced to rubble and replaced by a new building a few hundred yards away from where a gunman fatally shot five girls in October 2006.
Vouros said he stood on street corners with other board members on Saturday and held signs urging residents to vote “yes” on accepting the grant. There was a “tremendous amount of happiness and enthusiasm,” particularly portrayed by residents driving by and honking their horns in support of a new school, he said.
“It’s a loud and clear signal that the town is anxious to move forward,” he added, “and has the strength and the courage to do so.”