Referendum polls will be open for all registered and qualified voters Saturday, October 5, between 6 am and 8 pm, at Newtown Middle School to appropriate $50 million in state funding to rebuild Sandy Hook School.
Town Clerk Debbie Aurelia-Halstead said mailed in absentee ballots for the referendum will be counted if received by Saturday, October 5. Voters may apply for their own referendum ballots in-person up until 4:30 pm Friday, October 4.
Absentee ballots for the November election will also become available Friday, October 4.
The town clerk’s office has to be open Saturday between 6 am and 8 pm in the event of an emergency absentee ballot request for the school referendum, so Ms Aurelia-Halstead said she will also be offering absentee voting for the November election that day as well.
Advocacy in support of the vote appears to be proportionately strong, with dozens of letters of support appearing in The Bee versus a handful opposing the appropriation. The Sandy Hook School PTA has also come out strongly favoring a Yes vote.
First Selectman Pat Llodra, School Superintendent John Reed, and various Board of Education officials have also provided information tied to the $50 million proposal that was approved by the State Bond Commission on September 27.
The Newtown Board of Education, as members of the Sandy Hook School Building Task Force, stood with the 28-member panel endorsing the decision to remove the current Sandy Hook Elementary School building and build a new school on a modified version of the current site on Dickinson Drive.
Sandy Hook School PTA member Karen Holden told The Bee recently that she sees voting Yes as Newtown’s duty to support the decisions made at the state level in order to offer the referendum.
“We just want to bring our kids home to Newtown,” said PTA President Stephanie Burns. First Vice President Jennifer Taylor and Ms Holden quickly added, “together.”
Ms Holden said Monroe has been wonderful to offer Chalk Hill Middle School, but, she said, Sandy Hook School students cannot stay there forever.
First Selectman Pat Llodra and Interim School Superintendent John Reed sat for a video interview September 24 to respond to questions and to help residents understand the implications of the upcoming October 5 referendum.
The officials sat down with The Bee shortly after the first of several public information sessions and extended office hours for residents who want to come in and discuss concerns or ask questions about the impending project. Additional sessions with each public official, as well as meetings with both, continued this week ahead of the referendum.
“As far as the $50 million [is concerned], it comes without strings, it does not have to be repaid, it has no impact on the tax rate,” Dr Reed said. “It is an attempt on the part of the state to make Newtown whole. That means we had seven schools when we started the school year last year, and I think it’s the state’s judgment that we have seven schools now.”
Dr Reed characterized the offer as a “win-win situation for Newtown.”
Mrs Llodra addressed questions about why the town decided to build a new school versus renovating the existing building.
“There was a full analysis of the cost to renovate,” she said. “It is a 57-year-old building now. The cost to bring it up to code, to replace it with materials and designs appropriate for today’s education, and that meet the specifications of school buildings today cost almost as much as building new.
“So it would be an unwise use of money to try to use a 57-year-old structure and upgrade it to today’s standard,” she said. “And it did not achieve the support of the state as an option.”
The town also developed a series of informational Q&A documents to ensure that residents stayed informed through the rebuilding process of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced September 24 that the state was pledging its support to the Town of Newtown to facilitate the building of a replacement of Sandy Hook Elementary School and was prepared to approve the first round of funding toward its construction at the September 27 meeting of the State Bond Commission, which was done.
“The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School is never far from our minds. Over the last several months, we’ve done our best to move forward in a way that honors the memory of those we lost and meets the needs of residents and the surrounding community,” Gov Malloy said. “Healing from an enormous tragedy like this is never easy. There are no simple answers, and the challenges are many. With strong resolve and a determination to move forward, we can do our best to support the people of Newtown.”
Direct any questions about absentee balloting to the town clerk’s office at 203-270-4210. Direct questions about referendum voting October 5 to the Registrars of Voters Office at 203-270-4250.