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The Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission (SHPMC) gained momentum this year toward creating an official memorial to honor the 20 children and six educators who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School (SHS) on 12/14.
It accomplished numerous tasks, including finding land for the memorial, creating an informational document for potential designers, accepting designs, and giving guided site walks of the property.
In February, the group conducted a special meeting to discuss the possibility of accepting the “Rock of Angels,” which refers to the gifted memorial previously located in the back of St John’s Episcopal Church on Washington Avenue.
Florida resident Richard Gray had envisioned the memorial stone that features the names of the 26 children and faculty members killed at SHS, along with angels, hearts, and the words “Forever In Our Hearts… Always In Our Minds…” carved into the stone. The Rock of Angels was originally transported from Maine and installed at St John’s on August 12, 2013.
With the church closed, St John’s offered to donate the portion of its land where the monument was placed to the town. The Board of Selectmen asked the commission members to share their thoughts and decide if they would recommend the town accept the land and the memorial stone, with the idea that the commission would utilize the Rock of Angels in its planned permanent memorial. Ultimately, it was decided that the commission would recommend that the Board of Selectman not accept the Rock of Angels.
In March, the SHPMC resumed its focus to what plot of land in town would be best suited for the permanent memorial, setting its sights on the SAC Field property on 28 Riverside Road.
It was later announced that SAC Field Board of Trustees member George Lockwood signed the legal document to transfer the property from the SAC Field Board of Trustees to the Town of Newtown as a contribution to the town. The land would be divided to be utilized for the permanent memorial site, as well as the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company and the Newtown Underwater Search And Rescue.
George Benson of the Land Use Agency provided the commission members with maps of the property and navigated them through what was indicated on the outlines. In addition to meetings with Mr Benson about the newly acquired land, the SHPMC’s Design Subcommittee met with Deputy Director of Planning Rob Sibley from the Land Use Agency to discuss potential design plans, review surveys of the land, and learn about the property’s history.
Commission members also met with First Selectman Pat Llodra to gain insight on how to proceed with the permanent memorial process.
During the regularly scheduled May meeting, Mrs Llodra brought three templates for the request for proposal (RFP) to help the SHPMC members decide what type would work best for the permanent memorial project.
She explained that detailing the message of what the memorial is about is important in the RFP, because it gives the designer background information and a better understanding about what they are representing. The RFP will ultimately be the formal guidelines that all the prospective design responses go through.
At the next meeting, the SHPMC announced it would seek to continue the process of design selection that its members originally created.
“While the RFP process certainly makes sense for municipal projects like buildings, bridges, etc, the memorial project is more open ended and thus, in our opinion, calls for a different approach,” SHPMC and design subcommittee member Sarah Middeleer said. “The RFP process would disqualify many of those who have either shown us their designs already or who would like to participate.”
She continued, “For at least two years we have promised to those who presented designs to us that they would have the opportunity to submit them again when we issued an invitation. We feel that this is important, not only because of our commitment to these individuals, but also because it invites the community to participate in this process in a meaningful way.”
With that said, Ms Middeleer explained how the design process they recommended the commission proceed with allowed nonprofessionals and emerging professionals to take part in the permanent memorial’s design process.
The meeting was then primarily dedicated to working on the document that the commission’s design subcommittee created for potential designers to use as guidelines. Ms Middeleer presented the group with the nearly 20-page packet to review section by section, so members could present their questions, comments, and concerns. Each member’s input was then discussed to make sure everyone was comfortable with wording of the draft document.
Afterward there were months of constructing and fine-tuning the details and dates for the document, as the commission sought input from a number town agencies during the summer months, including the Land Use Agency, Newtown Parks & Recreation, and the Board of Selectmen. The feedback the commission received was considered and incorporated to help craft the final version — Version 26 — of the design guidelines document.
The submission guidelines information was then released to the public on September 22 and was available to be viewed on the commission’s web page.
In preparation for receiving designs, the SHPMC announced its Advisory Panel during a special meeting on August 22.
The six members that are participating in it are Joe Daniels, former president of the 9/11 Commission; Allison Blais, executive vice president and deputy director of strategy and advancement for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum; Tom Tavella, PLA, FALSA, LEED AP — principal, Alta Planning + Design, Inc; Rob Sibley, deputy director of planning for the Land Use Agency; Bob Mitchell, chairman of Newtown Public Building & Site; and Pat Llodra, Newtown first selectman, who will continue post role.
During the September 14 meeting, SHPMC member Ms Middeleer said that a seventh member named Shavaun Towers is also on the advisory panel.
By October, Mr Lyddy announced that more than 50 individuals/organizations had registered online with their intent to submit a permanent memorial design. Mr Lyddy explained that in addition to many local individuals registering, there were also “a few international intents to submit a design from China, Israel, and New Zealand.”
The SHPMC began accepting memorial designs through its website on October 14 up until December 15, for those that had already registered and received a personal identification code. Each potential designer was asked to set up a mandatory site walk of the private property before the December 15 deadline to help in their designing.
On December 4, SHPMC members Dan Krauss and Ms Middeleer gave The Newtown Bee a guided tour of the site just before sunset.
Upon entering the property’s driveway, the terrain starts with a flat plot of land, which still has some chain link fencing up from its former baseball field days. The lower levels of the memorial property can currently be accessed through a trail system that leads to a meadow with trees lining its perimeter.
Following the trail further back reveals two man-made ponds, one of which still has an old diving board attached to it.
These features were what potential designers saw to inspire their designs for the memorial.
Even though members met with potential designers at the site walks, the commission made it clear in its meetings that the first round of evaluations will just display the designer’s personal ID code to preserve anonymity.
Mr Lyddy said he wanted assessments to be “less of a competition and more conversational.”
The idea was that when the designs had been narrowed down to a smaller group of the SHPMC’s top picks, the individual/group’s biographies would accompany their design for a fuller scope of the entry.
When the top designs are selected, Mr Lyddy said the SHPMC will invite the families directly affected by 12/14 to privately view the prospects, if they so choose, and have a role in choosing the design.
The SHPMC will have its advisory panel review the options to give their professional opinions on the logistics of the designs. They will also give the opportunity for the community to see the potential designs as well.
Mr Lyddy did clarify that “the community will not vote on the designs; however, they will ultimately have the opportunity to speak up regarding the designs.”
The SHPMC will have its next meetings on January 4, 6, 11, and 13 to evaluate the design submissions it has received.
To learn more about the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission, visit sandyhookpermanentmemorial.com.