A new Sandy Hook Elementary School could cost between $47.5 million and $65.4 million.
A planning process has narrowed the future location to five possible sites, including the existing school where 20 children and six adults were killed in a mass shooting Dec. 14.
The cost estimates are preliminary and they are probably at the high end, said First Selectman E. Patricia Llodra. It is not clear how much of the construction will be paid by federal and state funds or private donations.
"Right from the very beginning, our state representatives have been saying that the state will pick up the full cost, or the state will work with the town to find sources for the full cost, because there could be some federal support in there, too," Llodra said.
Llodra said she realizes that the state doesn't have a lot of money and has "significant financial challenges."
A 28-member task force, which includes the town's three selectmen and the school board, has met for the past two Fridays and will choose a site location as early as May 3, or possibly May 10. Before a shovel hits dirt, the school board would have to draft educational specifications for the new building and the proposal put to voters at a referendum.
The town's planning officials and volunteer professionals from The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation examined every lot in Newtown to identify places a school could be built. The 40 potential sites were categorized in tiers, with five sites in the top tier, meaning they have the most ideal conditions.
The task started in early February, days before the two-month anniversary of the shooting. A massive book detailing all the sites is available as a 187-page downloadable document on the town's website, newtown-ct.gov.
"We've had a lot of help from a lot of people… the work they did for this book normally would take eight months to a year to finish. They did it in two months," said George Benson, the town's director of planning & land use, referring to the Harwood Institute.
The factors relevant to choosing a site include its topography; soil type; nearby traffic patterns; proximity to utilities, such as gas and sewer; and whether it has wetlands, among other considerations.
The existing Sandy Hook school property is shuttered and fenced off. Sandy Hook students are temporarily attending Chalk Hill Middle School in Monroe.
There are three possible strategies being considered for the option of rebuilding the Sandy Hook school. They vary in the degree to which the school is renovated or rebuilt and where to put entrances and exits — on Crestwood Drive or Dickenson Drive. Benson said planners are conscious that the existing Dickenson Drive entrance could trigger memories of the shooting for some people.
In one scenario, the square-shaped building would have two sides demolished, leaving an L-shape that could be redesigned as part of a new school. Another option would be demolishing the existing building altogether. The third option has an entrance on Crestwood Drive and an exit on Dickenson Drive.
Every option uses a building prototype that is 99,000 square feet, compared with the existing 69,000-square-foot Sandy Hook school. Construction could take 17 to 21 months. There has been no word yet of a start date.
The four other possible sites are at 28 Riverside Road, 7 and 9 Bennett's Bridge Road, Commerce Road, and 21 Mile High Road. The last option on Mile High Road is on the Fairfield Hills campus, which is the site of a former state-operated psychiatric hospital.