Workers seek to recreate Sandy Hook school in Monroe
Updated 10:37 pm, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
MONROE -- When Sandy Hook Elementary students go to their new school in January, they will see a replica of their familiar surroundings.
Hundreds of workers -- plumbers, painters, electricians, parents, teachers, laborers -- are feverishly working to make Chalk Hill School look like Sandy Hook.
On Wednesday, some students visited their new school and retrieved personal belongings left at Sandy Hook on Friday.
"After meeting many Sandy Hook Elementary children with their parents today, all I can say is they were all very happy to be getting `their stuff back,' " Monroe First Selectman Steve Vavrek said on his Facebook page Wednesday. "They all had a policeman walk with them as they saw their classrooms and their desks. The biggest hits were their new gym, library and cafeteria spaces."
When Chalk Hill opens sometime after the holidays, more than 500 students at the Sandy Hook school will attend the Monroe school. Newtown officials still must decide the future of the Sandy Hook building after the horrific shooting there Friday.
The school's principal, Dawn Hochsprung, was slain as she attempted to stop the gunman. Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza shot to death 20 students and six teachers and administrators. Earlier in the day, Lanza had killed his mother. He turned his gun on himself at the school as police swarmed the building.
Donna Page, retired principal of Sandy Hook Elementary, has agreed to help with the transition for as long as she is needed, according to officials.
Chalk Hill, last used by Monroe fourth- and fifth-graders in the 2010-11 school year, will have the same paint scheme as Sandy Hook Elementary. The same pictures and posters will be on the walls. Desks will be arranged in a familiar pattern. Even touches as small as where crayons normally are will be kept in mind.
Also, officials are installing a state-of-the art security and communication system.
"When they walk into the classroom, it's going to be their classroom," Vavrek said in an interview.
Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said the work on the school has been moving along rapidly.
Having retired principal Page to help will be good because the staff knows her, he said.
"All the advice we get is that the sooner you get the teachers and the students into a normal school setting the better,'' Cirasuolo said.
Vavrek said workers have taken dozens of photos of the rooms at Sandy Hook and are duplicating the paint scheme, hanging up the same pictures and posters -- in the same arrangement -- and setting up the desks in the same way. He said if a student had crayons on her desk a certain way, they will be set up identically when he or she returns.
Chalk Hill is being repainted in Sandy Hook's colors, green and white, and there are reports that Madison Square Garden has offered to donate a new gymnasium floor for the school.
"They're going to go back to a normal school -- as normal as it can be," Vavrek said.
A lot of infrastructure improvements, such as wiring and plumbing, needed to be made, Vavrek said.
School officials are also working to have the Sandy Hook preschool and afterschool programs ready when classes resume, though a location has not been confirmed. Education Connection, the regional education support agency for Newtown, runs the program.
"We are ready to open our program as soon as we know where it will be located,'' Education Connection executive director Danitu Thibodeau said Wednesday.
While he wouldn't discuss specifics, Vavrek said the security at Chalk Hill will be "state of the art" and include an extensive network of video cameras. Other security details, such as police protection, are being worked out.
He said "hundreds" of people have been working virtually nonstop at the school -- carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians, laborers, HVAC crews, members of parent groups. Cell towers have been erected behind the school. The state has waived all of the normal regulatory requirements.
As for a budget, Vavrek said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has told him to spend what is needed.
After the school was closed, Chalk Hill was used by the town's parks department and an EMS crew. The town was on the verge of allowing local theater and ballet groups to use it.
Bethel Cub Scoutmaster Keith Watson is leading an effort to collect school supplies for Chalk Hill. He said three boys who died in the shooting and eight of the 12 girls were Scouts.