By Richard Weizel
(Reuters) - After a gut-wrenching and tearful meeting, officials expressed doubt that the Connecticut elementary school where 20 children and six adults were shot to death last December could ever be reopened.
The 28-member Sandy Hook School Building Task Force has been charged with considering whether to demolish the entire school and build a new one on the same site or nearby, or demolish only the parts where the massacre unfolded, including several classrooms.
But after meeting with more than a dozen teachers from the school in a closed session, no decision was reached.
"It will always be a place where 26 people were murdered," said Laura Roche, a task force member and vice chairwoman of the local board of education. She described the meeting with the teachers as "both powerful and emotional," and said it had left her convinced that educators and students should not be asked to return to the school.
"This will always be a reminder of the awful events that happened there, and I want that to be clearly understood by everyone in this room," Roche said.
The teachers declined to address the media following the closed session. Many of them were in tears and leaning on one another for support.
"After tonight, I am convinced there would be great emotional impact going back into the Sandy Hook school," said Harry Waterbury, another task force member.
Still, most of the officials appeared to be deeply conflicted about how to move forward.
One task force member, James Gaston, said his impression was that a third of local residents want the school renovated, another third want a new school on the existing site, and the remaining third want it off-site in a different location.
Greg Fodor, whose son attended the school at the time of the shooting, said he wanted to see the existing facility reopened.
"I'm a life-long resident and don't see the need to build a new school," he said.
Since the December 14 massacre, the surviving students have been attending Chalk Hill School in the neighboring town of Monroe.
The task force said it would look into moving the students into an existing facilities within the town, including an intermediate school, and building an entirely new school campus.
All of the options under consideration would likely carry a heavy cost. An initial estimate suggests extensive renovations to the Sandy Hook School - including a new entrance and replacing three classrooms - would cost about $45 million. Building a new school would cost considerably more.
State and federal dollars would likely help cover the cost of either project.
In the case of other school shootings in recent U.S. history, including after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, towns have elected to demolish parts of the school rather than build entirely new facilities.
Ahead of the meeting, First Selectman Pat Llodra, who is also 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.
(Reporting by Richard Weizel; Editing by Edith Honan, David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker)