In a castle long ago, Cinderella had an old roof that needed new shingles.
She hired a carpenter to install the shingles, but aloft and unobserved, he cut a hole through the roof. It sprang a leak that damaged the ceiling, and soon the walls streamed with water that came through the hole that the carpenter had cut in the roof that needed re-shingling.
The carpenter said, “I’ll fix that roof, but first, looks like you need a new ceiling and brand new walls.”
But while fixing the ceiling, he shattered a window with the ladder he’d brought, and on his way out, he damaged a door and tore out a cornice, which fell on a mirror and cracked it.
And the roof was never re-shingled. (Cinderella has had a car like this, too.) What began with a secret hole ended in bills, legal parries and, ultimately, an abandoned castle.
The never-ending, shape-shifting repair budget. The old Sandy Hook Elementary school was a lot like Cinderella’s castle. Needs were acknowledged; at one time, needs may have been met. But after all the many things that were said and projected and analyzed, nothing much in recent history seems to have been accomplished.
In sum: Too many change orders. Not enough change. Or, at least, not the kind we were expecting.
Good intentions were stated. But in place of actual activity was a kind of talking, planning, analysis and budgeting ritual. Meantime, decades-old roofs, windows, HVAC and phone systems, shelves, wall tile, floors and paving aged and moldered and rotted and sagged and became obsolete.
No wonder, then, that the school appeared as it did in December 2012. Tacky and pocked, with nearly every corridor and hinge in need of serious attention. Non-ADA compliant, out of money and out of time. Click here to see it through the unforgiving eye of a forensic camera.
To a discerning eye, the school looks decades past its prime – likely shuttered well before 12-14-12. Many, including Cinderella, have seen merit in this conjecture.
Empty of schoolchildren, the Sandy Hook Elementary school would have made the perfect setting for a lone shooter FEMA drill. Or a data storage facility. Or something.
But … what?
The building: A remembrance of things past. Some high and low points in Sandy Hook Elementary’s building repair history deserve a careful review. A few of the items below were once substantiated in the Newtown Bee, but recently the Bee has removed or reset (“memory-holed”) the articles. See my article on “memory holes” here. Note that the items for 2002, 2004, 2008 and 2013 were well-documented in the Fellowship of the Minds blog here.
1956: The original Sandy Hook Elementary school was built on Dickinson Drive in Newtown, CT.
1957-1963: Cinderella found much about Elvis and the Beatles, but nothing about Sandy Hook Elementary. That is a project for another day.
1964: An addition was built onto the original school.
1965-1991: Fishing for news about the Sandy Hook Elementary school building during these three decades is a project Cinderella hopes to undertake at some future time. For now, here’s a 1970 article about a new $7000 well that had to be dug for the school due to a silt problem. (Reed Intermediate would have silt problems of its own decades later. History repeats.)
1992 or 1993: Yet another Sandy Hook Elementary addition was built. (Cinderella found conflicting information on the year.)
2002: Consulting Engineering Services recommended to Newtown schools that Sandy Hook Elementary be “worked on in 2010 over a nine-month period” to upgrade and renovate its heating and ventilation system. Newtown Bee memory-holed the link to the original article, but here is the quote Cinderella found in her old files:
“Sandy Hook School was also built in three sections — 1956, 1964, and 1993. It is being recommended by CES to be worked on in 2010 over a nine-month period. It is estimated to cost $4.5 million for heating and ventilation and $400,000 for air conditioning. The design of the school, the shape of a square, poses problems for efficient ventilation. It has hot air heat and heat coil in the ductwork, according to Mr Posca. The ventilation system is noisy in the library, which also does not have air conditioning and becomes quite warm. The school’s computer lab is in the library.”
Cinderella could find nothing to indicate this work was ever actually begun or completed.
2003: Newtown was toying with the possibility of “landbanking” acreage in the southeastern portion of town to use for a new elementary school. The reason: Sandy Hook Elementary school had an enrollment level that was 30% higher than the other elementary schools. ( See p. 10 here.) Note what’s in the southeastern part of Newtown: Fairfield Hills. (Also note the funny captioning typo on p. 9 here! Hawley Elementary is captioned as “Sandy Hook Elementary School.”)
There is no mention of the possible $4-5 million investment in Sandy Hook Elementary’s HVAC system, discussed in the previous year. It was apparently supplanted by the “landbanking” idea.
2004: Newtown Board of Education was told “there were serious problems with the Sandy Hook elementary school roof.” (Note that the link to the original report in Newtown Bee has been memory-holed.)
2005-2007: Cinderella looks forward to a time when she can fish and find Sandy Hook building history for these years.
2008: Newtown Schools Superintendent John Reed made statements about asbestos in various Newtown public schools. Cinderella found his remarks from the now memory-holed Newtown Bee article in her files:
“The asbestos levels in Newtown schools pose no threat to the health or safety of those using the schools, according to Superintendent John Reed. The areas in the schools where there is evidence of asbestos — the ceiling above the high school pool, areas of the upstairs floor of the Middle School A wing and the girls’ and boys’ locker rooms, are also considered acceptable and safe.”
But despite this breezy analysis, in Sandy Hook Elementary school’s case, the presence of asbestos would be confirmed in 2013, when the decision was made to raze the school due to serious hazmat issues. (See 2013 below.)
It was during 2008 that Sandy Hook Elementary’s website URL showed signs of inactivity according to the Wayback Machine. It attracted strong Wayback Machine interest from 2001-2007, then got no Wayback attention for a long time: four years, from early 2008 through 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. (Go here and look at item 5, then see the Wayback results here.) Then the Wayback Machine started noticing it again in 2013.
2010: Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung began her short term as principal of Sandy Hook Elementary school. She and others produced a handbook for parents and students. The front cover of the handbook features an old sketch of the school, with the address “Dickinson Drive” beneath it. There is no mention in this handbook of the $4.5 million upgrade recommended in 2002. Nor is there any mention of a roof repair. And, of course, the word “asbestos” doesn’t appear. However, see page 16, top, for info on the emergency phone system:
“EMERGENCY PHONE SYSTEM An automated notification system has been designed to alert parents to an emergency (unexpected) school closing. If an emergency situation occurs and Sandy Hook students are to be returned home at a time earlier than usual, the automated system will be implemented and parents / emergency contacts notified.” Interesting.
In June 2010, Newtown Schools allotted a modest expenditure ($25,000) for Sandy Hook Elementary’s building and site improvements in the approved budget. (See page 86, here.) Curiously, the items included HVAC for the computer room ($10,000), but zero for the classrooms, as the chart below shows:
Why would the computer room and portables merit more attention than, say, the Sandy Hook Elementary roof? Or the scruffy hallways, rotting wood and water-stained ceilings?
The total Newtown Schools building expenditure for 2010 (all schools) was $242,000. (See page 86, here.)
2011: In May 2011, a budget was passed that allotted Sandy Hook Elementary school a grand total of $0 for building maintenance during the 2011-2012 year. Yes, you read that correctly: Zilch. You can read about it in detail in Cinderella’s article here.
However, the budget also included a 5-year capital plan, during which Sandy Hook Elementary was to receive $369,500 – eventually, in installments, for building improvements. The biggest item? A $100k cafeteria roof. Not a new roof for the whole school, but a “cafetorium roof.” Take a look at the diagram below (upper right, with my added red arrow) to see how very small that roof would have been if the work had ever actually been done (to my knowledge, it wasn’t):
On pages 72-74 of the same document, you can read about the abysmal condition of many of the items slated for repair at Sandy Hook Elementary and other Newtown schools.
2012. In March this appears, truly one of the oddest documents to emerge in this timeline. Dated March 6, 2012, it’s an ad hoc committee’s recommendation for closing down a school in Newtown, based on 2009 declining enrollment projections by a “Dr. Chung.”
Around and around the committee went, entertaining various “consolidation” and closing scenarios. Closing Sandy Hook Elementary was one option, but it was rejected, along with two other schools that weren’t ADA-compliant. The logic seems to have been that an ADA-compliant school is a better choice for a shutdown – because it could more easily be reopened if enrollments were to go up again.
Head O’Meadow school emerges as the favored school for a shutdown. But in the end, it’s rejected in favor of closing Reed Intermediate. The reason seems to be that closing Reed would reap the biggest cost savings: $3 million per year.
The committee also recommended that the Board begin the process of a shutdown once elementary enrollments drop to 1,500.
And yet. In the same month (March 2012), this little item appears: The Sandy Hook Connection. You can read about it in my post, “One School, One Reed,” here. Cute, whimsical, blithe, it announces that a Sandy Hook event (a sock hop) is to be held at Reed Intermediate. Why?
In August 2012, Sharon Epple, Reed Intermediate’s principal, leaves for greener pastures. Why? Was she convinced that Reed would be closing?
Then, on October 16, 2012: The Board of Education holds a public meeting at 3 Primrose Street. (See it here.) It reminds Cinderella of the famous tea party – in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
(Image above used with permission)
Suddenly a $600,000 expenditure is being discussed to replace the Sandy Hook school’s windows — slated for 2016. (See page 53, here.) Yet, nothing is mentioned about replacing the cafeteria roof, an item earmarked for future funding in the 2011 budget. It’s almost as if the Newtown Board had taken off in a tardis and landed in a different region of the multiverse. Or, like the Mad Hatter, it became stuck in time. Newtime.
(In the 2011-2012 budget nothing was mentioned – at all – about the Sandy Hook windows. Nothing.)
The closing of Head O’ Meadow school and, possibly, Reed Intermediate is also discussed. (See pp 56-57 here.) And this provokes confusion and distress among the poor parents who attended, beginning on page 56. Here are a few of their remarks:
- If we close a school, where will those funds be used?
- Will the process be made public?
- We had a $1.3M surplus, and none came to education.
- There is no proof it is necessary to close a school. Besides the loss of flexibility of space and large class sizes, we would lose talented staff.
- All schools should be ADA-compliant.
- Parents should be involved in the decision.
On December 10, 2012: At a Newtown Board of Finance meeting, the Newtown Schools superintendent Janet Robinson leads a discussion about decreasing enrollment in Newtown’s elementary schools and the possibility of a school closing. (Click here.) But there’s no specific mention of Sandy Hook Elementary school’s physical plant.
Then December 14, 2012 happened, changing everything forever.
2013: On Oct. 5, 2013, nearly 10 months after the 12-14-12 event, Newtown passed a referendum to demolish and rebuild Sandy Hook Elementary with a $49.25 million grant from the state of Connecticut. The reason for the demolition: “asbestos abatement.” (Note that the link to the original report in Newtown Bee has been memory-holed.)
Then, on Dec. 2, 2013, Newtown’s Public Building and Site Commission Chairman Robert Mitchell justified the approved demolition with a report, saying that “had the town decided to reoccupy the school on Dickinson Drive, it would have faced a daunting and possibly insurmountable challenge regarding the presence of hazardous materials.” The school was found to be contaminated by asbestos as well as PCBs. (Note that all of the links above to original reports in Newtown Bee have been memory-holed.)
Well after 2008 – when asbestos became an issue in Newtown schools – Sandy Hook Elementary was still being discussed and treated as an active school facility.
It had a school handbook with a calendar, bus regulations and an alleged emergency phone system. Its physical plant was still in the budget – though just barely. In the March 2012 ad hoc committee recommendation, it was considered and rejected for mothballing precisely because it wasn’t ADA-compliant. Because if it ever had to be reopened, it would be harder to upgrade than, say, Head O’Meadow Elementary or Reed Intermediate.
If Sandy Hook Elementary was still a functioning school complex in 2012, then it was operating without a known school website URL. It was operating despite problems with ventilation, roofing, asbestos and PCBs, not to mention severely worn-out finishes. And it was operating in defiance of the ADA. As one Newtown parent put it, “All schools should be ADA-compliant.”
If it was still a functioning school in 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary wasn’t providing a healthy environment for children. Given Newtown’s financial and other difficulties, which Cinderella explored here, perhaps we can understand the ever-shifting budget. The confused and confusing decisions. The refusal to follow through on recommended repairs. The endlessly revolving planning game. What we cannot understand is why small children should be forced to pay the price.
If it was still a functioning school, Sandy Hook Elementary was on the verge of costing Newtown taxpapers quite a lot of cabbage: $600,000 worth of windows, perhaps in addition to the $369,500 approved in 2011 for the 5-year capital plan. (Of course, other schools would be costing even more.) Was Sandy Hook Elementary the actual school selected for shutdown? Because everyone knows it did shut down – on 12-14-12 – while all of the other Newtown schools have remained open.
If, on the other hand, Sandy Hook Elementary was an empty, aging hulk in 2012, where were the 454 children being educated instead? Cinderella has speculated on this subject here and here. She hasn’t yet exhausted all the possibilities.
And one more If. If Sandy Hook wasn’t used for teaching K-4 schoolchildren around the time of the 12-14-12 event, then just what was it being used for? Was it merely a dingy and drafty cave? If so, why spend anything on it at all?
Remember, there was a $0 building improvement budget for the school in 2011-2012.
But not so in 2010-2011. The last known improvements were:
- Painting and repairing the portables ($10k)
- Repairing the skyshades ($5k), and
- Adding HVAC to the computer room ($10k)
Is this significant? If so, what does it tell us?
This post has been written to aid others in their exploration of these questions. Cinderella has her own theories, but cannot prove them at this time. Therefore, she leaves the answers to the patient, probing and capable minds of her readers. ~ C.