The new Sandy Hook school: a ‘gentle fortress’

A school bathed in light and color brings comfort and hope, allowing the community to take the next step after the tragic shooting four years ago.

Sandy Hook new school by Svigals + Partners. Photo by Katelyn Chapin

Three and a half years ago, an unexplainable tragedy took place here. But yesterday, students smiled and laughed as they passed through the doors of the new Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, the first time in almost four years since they’ve had their own school to enter. Ever since the school suffered one of the biggest mass shootings in American history on December 12, 2012, this has been a somber site. Sending the town’s children through the same doors was unthinkable. The Sandy Hook community razed the original brick building in 2013 and put a new one in its place, replaced with what has been described as a “gentle fortress.” The result is as reverent and beautiful as it is practical and even fun—the way you’d want an elementary school with such a burdened history to be. It’s a place of light, not darkness.

Photo by Katelyn Chapin
Photo by Katelyn Chapin
Photo by Katelyn Chapin
Photo by Katelyn Chapin
Photo by Katelyn Chapin
Photo by Katelyn Chapin
Photo by Katelyn Chapin
Photo by Katelyn Chapin
Photo by Katelyn Chapin
Photo by Katelyn Chapin

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Svigals + Partners of New Haven, Connecticut is the architecture firm behind the new Sandy Hook, which features wood-and-fieldstone cladding, a wavy roofline, plenty of glass, and colorful art. Jay Brotman, an architect managing partner and one of three leads on the project, told Fast Co. Design: “As architects, we aspire for opportunities like this, to build a meaningful symbol that serves a community as well as a global emblem.”

Workshop groups full of teachers, parents, administrators, and other community members joined forces with Svigals + Partners to develop a school that would feel safe and welcoming. A workshop series called KidsBuild! involved students in the design process, too.

Perhaps most strikingly is that the 86,800-square-foot school lacks a traditional memorial of any kind. Instead, the school is full of soft touches like bird murals and the words “Be kind.”

“Sandy Hook School will be a place that inspires kindness,” said Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra at the school’s Media Access Day in July.

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