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The Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission (SHPMC) met for its regularly scheduled monthly meeting Thursday, July 12, to discuss a proposed agenda for the group’s special meeting taking place the following Tuesday, July 17. The latter meeting was set for the commission to meet the designers who created the top three permanent memorial submissions.
During the July 12 meeting, the commission determined that it would allow an hour for each designer, or design team, to discuss their project on Tuesday, broken into two parts: a half an hour presentation followed by a half an hour for questions.
“We want to fully understand each of the projects,” SHPMC member and former Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra said about the importance of giving each designer enough time to present.
The commission also determined they would include a half an hour break between each designer’s allotted hour and have a public participation portion available once all the designers had presented.
SHPMC chairman Dan Krauss said that the Tuesday meeting would not only be open for the public, but that all the 12/14 families were being notified in case they wanted to attend. The commission also extended an invitation to many town-affiliated groups, including the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, Legislative Council, Planning and Zoning, Parks and Recreation, Inland and Wetlands, Land Use Agency, Conservation Commission, Public Building and Site, and the Police Commission.
The SHPMC agreed to have an additional special meeting for Monday, August 30, from 1 to 2:30 pm, for a more in-depth discussion among its members about their thoughts on the July 17 presentations.
The first design team to present on July 17 was Daniel Affleck and Ben Waldo of SWA Group, based out of San Francisco, Calif., whose design has been labeled SH37 by the commission.
Mr Affleck is an associate principal for SWA Group and grew up in West Hartford. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts at Skidmore College and his Master of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. His experience includes various projects throughout California and internationally in China.
Mr Waldo, SWA Group designer, also has experience with numerous projects in California, as well as in Minnesota, where he is originally from. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies and his Bachelor of Design and Architecture at the University of Minnesota and his Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of California Berkeley.
Their third partner, who was not available to attend, is SWA Principal and Landscape Architect Justin Winters. The Fairfield-native received his Bachelor of Environmental Studies at the University of Redlands and his Master of Landscape Architecture at Cornell University. Mr Winters has worked on many projects in the United States, Mexico, and the Philippines.
The group has also connected with Fluidity Design Consultants Founder and President James Garland for the water design elements and Sherwood Design Engineers Principal Jason Loiselle and Design Engineer Gabriel Duque for site engineering.
Mr Affleck and Mr Waldo acknowledged the “long road” the SHPMC has been on since the tragedy and that their design seeks to honor the victims’ memories while creating a space of beauty for years to come.
They focused on three particular elements when gaining inspiration for the design, one being a quote they attributed to Rebecca Solnit, “Paths are a record of those who have gone before, and to follow them is to follow people who are no longer there.”
The other concepts were a circle and a sycamore tree.
Mr Affleck discussed how they implemented changes to their overall design after receiving feedback from the SHPMC pertaining to environmental impact and cost. By focusing on the grading issue, they were able to adjust their plans. Changes from their original design also included making an emergency access path, resting benches, and bridges.
During their presentation, they gave a step-by-step walk-through of the site, beginning with the entryway off Riverside Road that would include a natural paved driveway leading to a gate. There would be a row of hemlocks screening the sides of the property.
The first feature of the memorial site would be the pavilion, which they said was inspired by the roofline of the Matthew Curtiss House in Newtown.
The main portion of the site would have a circle around a pool of water with all the names of the 12/14 victims inscribed on it. The water would surround an island where a young sycamore tree would be planted to represent the young age of those who had died. They envision memorial candles being able to float in the water and be collected afterwards.
Mr Affleck added that because the tragedy happened in December, it is important for them to keep the fountain fully functioning in all seasons.
“Seasonality was a very important concept for us,” Mr Waldo said. “Ultimately, this project is about how a memory can carry love forward after death. We felt the seasons were a perfect metaphor for this.”
They intend to have plantings that will thrive at different points throughout the year, specifically flowers that attract butterflies in the summer, maple and birch trees to change color in the fall, evergreens and arctic sun dogwood to keep color in the winter, and white flowering dogwoods and geraniums in the spring.
The team also discussed their estimated 150 tree disposition plan, a maintenance plan that ranged from daily to weekly to monthly to annually, the paving pallet, grading plan, cut and fill diagram, site lighting and security, and their reduction of proposed paths for the site, of which they say they reduced by 35 percent from their original design.
Mr Affleck closed the presentation by saying that not only do they have a firm with 60 years of experience, but that they are personally invested in the creation of the memorial.
“This project means a lot to us, from the bottom of our hearts,” he said.
The second designer to present at the SHPMC meeting on July 17, was landscape designer Justin Arleo of Arleo Design Studio LLC, based out of Tempe, Ariz., for design SH108.
Originally from New York, Mr Arleo has been working in Arizona since 2003. He graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in Design Studies from Arizona State University and received his Master of Architecture degree from there as well. Mr Arleo’s design firm specializes in private gardens/landscapes, xeric horticulture (which reduces need for supplemental irrigation), and environmental art.
He is also a husband and a father of three children, which caused the memorial to hit close to home for him. He told the commission that he feels it is an “honor” to be part of this project.
He hopes his design can honor the lives of the 26 individuals, as well as offer a sanctuary and place of remembrance and reflection for the community.
“Memorials in general can never undo the destruction that precedes them,” he explained, but they can be a symbol of the endurance and perseverance of the human spirit.
The five elements in Mr Arleo’s design that were important for him to include were representing the 26 individuals; having features that were not static, but full of life; garden space for individual dedications; creating a timeless and permanent space; and having it feel safe and welcoming for all.
Coming off of Riverside Road, there would be screening of mature American Holly trees leading to a concrete parking lot. The main entry point would be prominently located, and there would be a sign about the flora and fauna on the site.
There would also be a wall made from reclaimed granite, from a Connecticut quarry, with a plaque. Straight ahead would be cleared, leading to a pathway. Following that path, the sacred soil would be underneath and identified with a dedication stone above it. The thousands of unclaimed donations and gifts from the aftermath of 12/14 and those broken down by exposure to weather were incinerated and declared “sacred soil,” in 2013. Designers were encouraged to incorporate the sacred soil into their projects.
In the memorial garden, he designed flower beds and fountains arranged in an orderly way, which he referenced as reflecting a classroom setting. There would be specific flower beds and fountains representing the 20 children, all at a specific height, then six flower beds and fountains at a taller height to represent the faculty killed. The fountains would have each person’s name inscribed on them, along with a quote or input from the victims’ families.
Per the commission’s prior requests, he added benches to his design and changed the plantings to perennials. He also discussed his grading plan, which he says he specifically kept as close to the site’s existing plan to keep costs down.
While discussing the fountain’s pumping systems, he said he does not envision them running throughout the winter, but that they will be beautiful even when not on. If awarded the project, Mr Arleo said, he will consult with local firms and companies to help with the creation of the project for specialized features, like the fountains.
The final presentation of the afternoon was for the design labeled SH240. The group members that created the project were RSP Dreambox Associate Principal and Experience Design Director Teri Kwant, Damon Farber Landscape Architects Principal Landscape Architect Joan MacLeod, and Svigals + Partners Associate Principal Julia McFadden.
Ms Kwant received a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Architecture from Miami University, a fellowship at the University of Minnesota College of Landscape Architecture Certificate in Landscapes of Contemplation, and a Master of Fine Arts and Furniture Design from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
Ms MacLeod received her Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from the University of California–Berkeley and has been practicing landscape architecture for the past 25 years.
In addition to Ms McFadden’s education and training, which includes a Master of Architecture, she has experience working on many local projects throughout Connecticut, including the new Sandy Hook Elementary School.
They have also teamed up with local landscape architect and ecology consultant Alex Felson to collaborate on the project. Mr Felson is an associate professor at Yale University.
Ms Kwant told the commission that even though none of them know the specific loss everyone carries with them each day since the shooting, their design is made from the heart with the hopes of creating a place of respite, compassion, and remembrance for all.
The walk-through of their proposed memorial included an overlook site where people can view the next steps of their journey across the property. There will be reflecting ponds where, Ms McLeod says, the water will provide a gentle sound and allow for masking the noise of private conversations. Other elements include the Listening Path, Belonging Bench and Arbor, and many nature elements.
Having updated their design to accommodate the commission’s previous feedback, where there was once an empty “breathing field,” there is now a filled-in meadow.
The team brought in examples of different specific materials they plan to use in the design and explained the significance of each — birch trees to be watchful guardians of the site and reclaimed teak wood, granite, and marble for durability.
Ms Kwant said their design includes a 27th bench to represent everyone who has been changed from acts of gun violence, such as first responders and community members. She added that her son is a survivor of gun violence.
Ultimately, the group understands that the memorial is for the 26 victims, and Ms Kwant added, “We are ready to help make a memorial for you.”
For more information about the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission and to view the top three designs in the running, visit newtown-ct.gov/sandy-hook-permanent-memorial-commission.