MILFORD, Connecticut Five months after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in one of the worst school massacres in American history in Newtown, Connecticut, a task force is to decide later Friday on the fate of the school building, where the tragedy took place.
If the task force on the future of Sandy Hook Elementary School, comprising 28 elected town officials, fails to reach a decision on whether the building should be torn down, renovated or rebuilt at the same location or near it, the children may have to continue to attend a school in a neighboring town for a year longer than planned.
Since the incident in December, Sandy Hook students have been attending a school in neighboring Monroe.
The panel is due to meet at 7:00 p.m. EDT.
Whether the building is replaced or renovated, the project is expected to take about 17 to 21 months.
Town officials warned that the Sandy Hook School Task Force must reach a decision on Friday to avoid a one-year delay in the project, which would keep students in the Chalk Hill School in Monroe that much longer.
The panel faces a June 7th deadline to apply for potential state and federal funding to replace or renovate the building.
"No doubt about it, there needs to be a recommendation so it can be forwarded to the Board of Education next week, even if takes until 2:00 in the morning," said George Benson, Newtown's director of planning and land use.
Benson estimated that it would cost $47 million to renovate the school, or about $56 million for a new building.
The task force was supposed to have decided on the fate of the building at a five-hour meeting a week ago, but emotional pleas from teachers and parents to have it demolished delayed a vote.
Parents, teachers and residents are deeply divided over whether the school should be renovated, rebuilt on the same site or on a parcel about a mile away on the campus of the town's Municipal Complex.
"For me, it will always be a place where 26 people were murdered," Laura Roche, a task force member and vice chairwoman of the local board of education, told the panel last week. "This (school building) will always be a reminder of the awful events that happened there."
Some parents said they want their children to return to a renovated Sandy Hook School building, and don't want them forced to attend school outside the Sandy Hook district.
"I want my (eight-year-old) son back in Newtown and attending Sandy Hook, where he belongs," said Greg Fodor, a lifelong resident.
Former First Selectman Joseph Borst, who is now a member of the Newtown Building and Site Commission which will be handling bids on the project, agreed.
"As a resident of the Sandy Hook community, I know many parents want their children to stay here, not to attend school a mile or more away."
In other school shootings in recent U.S. history, including after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, towns had elected to demolish parts of the school rather than build entirely new facilities.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bernadette Baum)