By Richard Weizel
(Reuters) - Months after a gunman killed 20 first graders and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, local officials in Newtown, Connecticut, will gather on Friday to discuss what to do with the vacant school building that is the site of one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.
A 28-member special task force of town officials will consider whether to demolish the entire school and build a new one on same site or nearby, or demolish only the parts where the massacre unfolded, including several classrooms.
The Sandy Hook School Building Task Force will submit its recommendations to the town and state Board of Education.
"Some teachers have expressed strongly that there is no way they could ever return to the school, and it's hard to fault them for that," said former First Selectman Joseph Borst, now a member of the Newtown Building and Site Commission, which will be responsible for handling bids on the project.
Borst said he favors the option of reopening the current facility, with a newly-built entrance and no trace of the principal's office and classrooms where the shootings occurred. An initial estimate suggests extensive renovations would cost about $45 million.
Building a new school would cost considerably more, though a specific figure has not been released. Borst said he believed the price of a new school would be "prohibitive."
State and federal dollars would likely help cover the cost of either project, he said.
First Selectman Pat Llodra, a task force member, said the goal will be to make "the best decision for everyone." She said the project will likely take between 17 to 21 months to complete.
Town residents will also vote in a referendum on whether to approve what is expected to be at least a $47 million expenditure.
Since the December 14 massacre, the surviving students have been attending Chalk Hill School in the neighboring town of Monroe.
The shooting sparked an urgent national debate about guns, with gun control advocates arguing for expanded background checks and ban on assault weapons, while gun rights groups said the tragedy revealed the need for greater school security.
President Barack Obama described it as one of the saddest days of his presidency.
The public meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Town Municipal Center. Another meeting is scheduled for May 10 at 7 p.m. in the Municipal Complex.
(Reporting by Rich Weizel; Editing by David Gregorio)