Plans for a new Sandy Hook Elementary School already are more modest than the $55 million to $60 million early estimate that was provided to elected leaders and the public in April and early May.
The school is now estimated to cost $42 million and is tentatively going to be 70,000 square feet, which is smaller than an early prototype of about 99,000 square feet. The existing school is about 69,000 square feet.
A 28-member task force met five times in April and May to consider possible sites for a new Sandy Hook school to replace the building where 20 children and six educators were killed on Dec. 14. People on the task force were given 40 possible sites. That list was narrowed until the group voted unanimously May 10 to build a new school at the site of the existing Sandy Hook elementary, which is shuttered and fenced off.
While the task force was deciding a site, First Selectman E. Patricia Llodra and others were working on a more specific design — one that was based on enrollment, and on Newtown's request that the state and federal government fund the cost of the new building.
"What we, Newtown, are asking the state to do is kind of replace the building. Make us whole," Llodra said.
If the town were to be made whole, the replacement school would have to be closer in size to the existing building. So, Newtown is asking for funding to build a 70,000-square-foot building at a cost "not to exceed" $42 million, Llodra said.
A 99,000-square-foot prototype was used in the planning process to determine whether a site could fit the largest possible elementary school that Newtown might build, said George Benson, Newtown's director of planning and land use.
"I told them to design it to the maximum size so we can make sure it would fit on the sites before we selected a site," he said. "And we knew it was going to be smaller, but we still wanted to make sure that size could fit in all the sites we were looking at, just to make sure they were feasible."
Design plans are still preliminary as the school board provides educational specifications to the plan, further establishing what the facility will need based on advice from teachers and administrators, Benson said.
Initial cost estimates to build a new school at the existing site of Sandy Hook elementary were between $56 million and $57 million, according to the Sandy Hook Advisory Committee special study, a 187-page PDF available on the Newtown website. That plan called for a 99,945-square-foot with an entry on Crestwood Drive.
The task force and planning officials in town want a different entry to the school than Dickinson Drive, which is the existing access road that some say will bring back memories of the massacre. Initially, planners suggested entering on Crestwood Drive, but a new possibility recently emerged.
Earlier this month, a homeowner offered to sell two properties at 12 Riverside Road, allowing Newtown to build an entryway to the Sandy Hook school between the Newtown Senior Center and Apex Glass & Aluminum Products Inc.
Crestwood had been the only feasible alternative entry to Dickinson, but Crestwood has its problems, Benson said. The road would have to be widened; the line of sight is terrible; a house that may have historic value would have to be removed, and other complications, he said.
"We didn't like the alternative, and that's the only alternative we had at that point," he said.
Benson was reluctant to outline a definitive construction schedule, but elected officials hope to open the new school by spring 2016.
"It's being adjusted as we speak," Benson said Tuesday morning of the building plans.