Newtown to vote on $3.7 million ‘living memorial’ to Sandy Hook shooting victims

Photo of Rob Ryser

NEWTOWN — After a seven-year effort to find the right space and the right design to honor victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting, a proposed $3.7 million ‘living memorial’ will go before voters in April.

“I’m excited we now have a project that’s in a position to move forward,” First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said at the latest meeting of the memorial steering group. “We have to spread the message far and wide to highlight what we are doing here, and let people understand it’s not a $3.7 million dollar piece of granite — it really is a moving landscape.”

That has been the vision for the Sandy Hook memorial since 2018, when Newtown selected two San Francisco architects from 188 bidders to build “a walk through nature” on a secluded 5-acre site near the new Sandy Hook School.

Over the last two years, as the plan was scaled down from $10 million to $6 million to the current $3.7 million to meet the budget of a small New England town, the architects were able to preserve the winning concept: a walk through “the beautiful, serene, natural environment” to a “sacred sycamore” planted in a reflecting pool, encircled by the names of the 26 first-graders and educators who were killed.

“We’ve really tried to convey that idea of movement — that you travel at your own pace, as you move down to that central feature,” said Dan Affleck, a landscape architect from SWA, during a Feb. 4 meeting of the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission. “Everything is always bringing you back to the center, which was a critical design component.”

Public outreach about the memorial plans is expected to begin in early March.

“People need to understand this is a living memorial that’s being developed here,” said Pat Llodra, who was Newtown’s first selectwoman at the time of the shooting, and a member of the memorial commission. “We need to invite people to come and see these plans.”

Affleck agreed.

“I really think this design creates a place that honors the memory of the people that were lost,” Affleck said. “It can create a place for families to feel the embrace of nature around them.”

If the memorial proposition on the April 27 ballot passes, construction could begin as soon as the summer off Riverside Road. The goal would be to finish most of the project by the spring of 2022 and finish the planting, so the memorial would be ready for a grand opening on the 10th anniversary of the shooting in December, 2022.

“The serenity this site can provide I think can be a very powerful experience,” Affleck said. 203-731-3342