What Newtown Will Destroy—and Build—After Sandy Hook

1-22-15 Lanza house
Two years after the massacre, town officials voted to tear down Adam Lanza’s house while a new school is in the works. Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters

In the two years since 20-year-old Adam Lanza burst into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 26 people, including 20 children, before shooting himself, the town has grappled with what to do with the physical reminders of that painful day.

Should a new school replace the one where the children were shot? What should be done with the house Lanza lived in and shot his mother before embarking on his killing spree? What would a memorial look like?

At least one of those questions was on its way to being resolved this week when the town's Legislative Council voted Wednesday to tear down the house where Lanza lived before his rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The town has also started discussions for a memorial and construction is due to begin on a new school on the same property where the elementary school stood until it was demolished at the end of 2013.

Officials decided in a unanimous vote to demolish Lanza's house based on a proposal by the board of selectmen, and after the bank turned over its title to the town at no cost.

"I think that this is the best way we can honor the victims families and remove another obstacle to their healing, as well as for families who have children who live in that neighborhood," says Mary Ann Jacob, chair of the Legislative Council. "It's still an object of curiosity, and that's stressful I think for people who live there."

A neighbor, Dave Ackart, expressed similar sentiments, writing: "Not only is the property a constant reminder of the evil that resided there—those of us who walk, run, drive, ride or otherwise must pass it multiple times a day, are having a hard time moving on."

First Selectwoman Patricia Llodra—who, Jacob explains, is like a mayor—will call a special town meeting for any members of the community who would like to discuss the issue before the Newtown can proceed with the demolition. Once the meeting is held, likely in the coming weeks, Llodra is authorized to proceed with plans to raze the house at 36 Yogananda Street as soon as it's feasible, weather permitting. The estimated demolition cost of roughly $30,000 will be covered by municipal insurance policy.

Llodra will also look into documentation that would ensure the town would not benefit from any future sale or development of the property, but rather that any such proceeds would go to benefit the victims' families.

"There are no imminent plans to do anything other than demolish" the house, says Jacob, but the measure will be put in place "should future generations make another choice."

Demolition on the school where Lanza killed 20 children and six staff members on December 14, 2012, after killing his mother in the house on Yogananda Street was completed early last year, but for different reasons.

After the shooting, it became clear that renovating the school would cost nearly as much as building a new one. The design for a new school—on a different footprint on the same property—has already been approved, according to Jacob. Construction of the new school is due to break ground this spring and expected to open in the fall of 2016. In the meantime, the children are learning in the neighboring town of Monroe in a school building that had previously been vacant.

The vote to demolish Lanza's home came just one day after the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission held an open forum on a potential memorial to honor the victims of the shooting. A second open forum is scheduled for next Thursday.

"It's a long process that will probably take several years," says Jacob, explaining that a decision has yet to be made on whether a memorial will be built and if so, what it would look like. The forums are part of the very early stages, she says, opportunities for townsfolk and families of victims to speak their minds.