NEWTOWN, Conn. - Newtown, Conn., residents are voting today on whether to approve an up- to $50 million gift from the state to tear down the Sandy Hook Elementary School, the site of a horrific shooting in December 2012, and rebuild a new one.
State lawmakers have allotted millions in funding to knock down the school where tragedy struck nearly 10 months ago and build a new facility for students on the school grounds, but away from the initial site so that a memorial could be built in its place.
Residents must vote on the referendum to approve the gift, in accordance with the town charter's rules.
Weston Public Schools Interim School Superintendent John Reed told The Newtown Bee the funding "comes without strings."
"It does not have to be repaid, it has no impact on the tax rate," he said. "It is an attempt on the part of the state to make Newtown whole. That means we had seven schools when we started school year last year, and I think it's the state's judgment that we have seven schools now."
Community support for the new school appears to be high.
"As we look to bring home our Sandy Hook School community, it is critical to have a school building that will allow them to stay together," the Newtown Board of Education said in a letter to The Newtown Bee. "Accepting this funding will allow the town of Newtown to once again be made whole."
"The people of Newtown decided that building a new Sandy Hook Elementary School is an important step onward for their children and their community," Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman said in a statement on Sept. 24. "This funding is another way the state is continuing the unwavering support our citizens and our government have shown for them since that dark day that still affects us all."
"The town's been through a lot and I think we do need a new school system over there, or a new school anyway," Newtown resident Paul Carpenter told ABC Hartford-New Haven affiliate WTNH-TV.
Students who would be attending Sandy Hook Elementary School this year are being bussed to nearby Chalk Hill Middle School in Monroe, Conn.
Newtown Board of Education member Debbie Leidlein told ABCNews.com that the community has been fortunate to be able to use a school in such close proximity, but it isn't the same.
"We're very anxious to bring our Sandy Hook School families back into Newtown," she said. "We're confident that the community will come out and support that."
If passed, the referendum would allow for the former school to be demolished within the new few months, Leidlein said. The rebuilding would begin again in the spring.
"The goal is to get them into the school either in the beginning of 2015 or that next fall," she said.
Leidlein said she was out holding a "Vote Yes" sign outside Newtown Middle School where the vote is being held earlier today. Approximately 3,600 people had voted as of 3 p.m. this afternoon, which she believes is a positive sign for the gift's approval.
"There's always rumblings of people questioning things, but I have not heard anybody who has come out and said they were against the town accepting this gift, but you never know," she said. "People understand and think that this is something worth coming out to support."
The vote ends at 8 p.m. this evening.