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On the Horizon: Sandy Hook Elementary

Set to open in 2016, construction is now underway on the new, two-story Sandy Hook Elementary by Svigals + Partners.

09/30/2014 By Erika Templeton

On December 14, 2012, the name Sandy Hook Elementary was forever ingrained in our nation’s memory. There, the deadliest mass shooting in a K-12 facility in U.S history took the lives of 20 students and six-faculty members—and shook the small-town community of Newtown, Conn., to its core.

Amid all of the questions that arise in the wake of such a tragedy, one stood out concretely: What to do with the school?

Students were sent to nearby Chalk Hill Middle School while Sandy Hook was first closed indefinitely, and then demolished following a 4,504 to 558 vote in favor of rebuilding—both school and spirit—from scratch.

This past March, officials from Newtown announced the schematic design for Sandy Hook, but the project has been a center point for community rebuilding since Svigals + Partners was first selected back in September 2013.

In an intensely iterative design process, the firm (which is based in New Haven, Conn., just 25 miles away from Newtown) gathered feedback and input from 50 members of the community through School Based Building Advisory Committee workshops. Teachers, parents, members of the Newtown Sustainable Energy and Newtown Recovery committees, and officials from parks and recreation, planning and zoning, and police departments gathered together to voice their ideas and concerns.

“In a situation like this, everyone is faced with a lot of trepidation: What’s our community going to do?” said Jay Brotman, principal-in-charge at Svigals + Partners. “These working groups and commenting periods gave everyone a chance to talk about what was important to them. Even if it didn’t get into the final design, they were heard, and they were able to hear others.”

Construction is now underway for the new two-story, 80,000-square-foot building.

A curving facade evokes a set of arms open wide to welcome and embrace students entering the building each morning. Using a new type of glass called School Guard Glass from LTI Smart Glass, Inc., Svigals + Partners were able to create a barrier against intruders, while maintaining a friendly, open environment.

“Everything we’ve done we’ve considered in terms of impact on security,” said Brotman, who boils down the overall strategy to “deter, detect, delay.”

The only remnant of the original school will be its flagpole.

Set to open in 2016, the school will be the center of a three-year study conducted by the state of Connecticut and UCONN with funding from the Department Of Justice, which will focus on the effectiveness of the security design and procedures implemented and the fidelity of their usage over time.

After assessing the performance of elements used in the new Sandy Hook Elementary school, the study’s results will be used by the Connecticut School Security Infrastructure Council (and others nationally) to gauge the most effective use of construction funding for the most appropriate security features.