The governor and local legislators set the stage this week for Newtown’s October 5 referendum, when local voters will be asked to authorize the expenditure of $49.25 million for the demolition of the existing Sandy Hook School and the design and construction of a new school on the same, but reconfigured, site off Riverside Road. Governor Dannel P. Malloy said that the State Bond Commission will approve the necessary financing, following through on promises state officials made in the wake of the 12/14 shootings at the Sandy Hook School to make Newtown whole financially in creating a new facility for more than 400 K–4 school children displaced by the tragedy.
A draft of Newtown’s latest version of its Plan of Conservation and Development is currently making the rounds of town agencies for critiques and comments before the Planning and Zoning Commission formally approves the planning document later this year. By state the town has to update this document at least once a decade. The principles and goals outlined in these town plans are usually exceedingly impressionistic — pretty pictures, really, of a town with open spaces and historic charm, diverse in its population and opportunities, and free of traffic congestion. It is a nice vision. Would that we could all go live in the town plan. But as a visionary of another sort, John Lennon, pointed out, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
The Board of Trustees of the C.H. Booth Library has a problem. It has hired a new library director it hoped would lead one of Newtown’s most revered institutions into the future but who has fumbled badly in the first two months of his tenure. Instead of rallying the community around its library to meet the challenges and opportunities of the Information Age, he has failed to connect with his staff and has alienated many of the library’s most steadfast patrons. The board itself was drawn into the drama this week as it was scolded by townspeople, some of them former board members themselves, for making a mistake and not taking immediate steps to rectify it.
The connection between the beginning of a new school year and Labor Day is for most of us a calendar coincidence. Both milestones are worthy of fanfare and commemoration, but the link between the two seems largely a matter of timing. A report released last week by the New Haven-based public policy research group Connecticut Voices for Children suggests, however, that the state’s labor picture and our collective aspirations for schoolchildren are directly connected. Without better access to “high quality” public education leading to higher education and job training opportunities, current trends of soaring youth unemployment and wage disparity along racial and ethnic lines in the state will continue to degrade the entire state’s economic outlook, according to the report.
It is a paradox of human relations that the ones we hold closest to our hearts thrive when we loosen our grip. Given what we know about child development and education, it is easy for parents to see the sense of it. But Tuesday morning, as children headed out to the bus stops, this small “letting go” for the coming school year may have, for many, proved to be a most difficult moment of surrender. Newtown is no longer a town where people can find consolation by telling themselves that things always turn out for the best. That kind of naïveté requires a level of trust in fate that just doesn’t exist in this place anymore.
Just nine people scattered themselves throughout the rows of chairs set up in the C.H. Booth Library’s meeting room August 15 for the first of three scheduled “focus groups” designed to assess the community’s views on short- and long-term change at the library. The sessions may seem like the routine stock-taking exercises common to most public institutions in times of transition, but for some of those few who showed up last week, the invitation to weigh in on the direction of the library seemed particularly urgent and relevant. While the focus groups are invited to think about the future, it was clear that a more current shuffle of library equipment and personnel was on their minds.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This, simply stated, is Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which explains why when something exerts a force on something else, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body. This past week, we found ourselves thinking about Newton and Newtown simultaneously as we witnessed two separate events in town: Seussical: The Musical staged at Newtown High School over the weekend, and the delivery and dedication of the Rock of Angels memorial monument, conceived by a Florida man and created by volunteers in his home state of Maine.
The nonprofit Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut (CHDI) released a report on Monday that praised the state for having “one of the country’s most extensive arrays of children’s mental health evidence-based practices delivered in home and community settings.” Building a system of quality mental health care services for Connecticut’s children has taken the commitment and significant investments of both the public and private sectors. The only problem is that most of the children of the state cannot get access to those services.
The organizers of The Great Newtown Reunion, which took place on July 27 on the grounds of the Fairfield Hills Campus, spent months putting together a first-ever event that had at its heart, paradoxically, tradition. Getting together — the object of every reunion — has become an automatic impulse for Newtowners since the tragic massacre at the Sandy Hook School on December 14. As we saw at the event Saturday, it has turned out to be an impulse strong enough to drive people back to town from the far corners of the country and beyond. They came to honor a tradition among the people of this community: live here your whole life, or move in then move on — either way, this place will always be your hometown.
The interstate signs for Exit 10 say “Newtown, Sandy Hook,” two now-famous names that will catch the attention of even the most road-addled thru-traveler. The signs may as well say, “This is the place!” Throw the utilitarian inducements of the Mobil gas station and The Blue Colony Diner into the proffer, and it is no surprise that Newtown now has a steady stream of strangers pulling off the highway, for gas, food, and curiosity. The volunteers at the Sandy Hook firehouse at Riverside Road and Dickinson Drive, and the residents of Crestwood Drive in Sandy Hook are by now used to seeing vehicles with out-of-state plates trying to make their way to the closest vantage points at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The empty building has been fenced off and behind barriers for months, but people keep coming; they want to see the school.