Construction on a permanent memorial for the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School is scheduled to start in August, with completion before the tenth anniversary in December 2022 of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy that killed 26 people, including 20 children, says construction manager Downes Construction Co.

Clearing work on the project, located on five-acres of land donated near the site of the shooting, started in June and set the stage for New Britain, Conn.-based Downes to release bids for trade partners.

“Bids are received but we are still under scope review,” says Jeffrey S. Anderson, vice president of preconstruction.

The State Bond Commission approved $2.5 million in funding for the $3.7 million memorial in July, “so the town only has to fund about $1.2 million,” says Robert Mitchell, Newtown’s public building and site commission chairman.

Mitchell, the owner of his own architecture firm, was named an ENR Newsmaker in 2017 for shepherding design and construction of a new Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Design Award

San Francisco-based SWA Group’s design for the memorial was selected out of 188 submissions from around the globe. The firm began finalizing construction documents after a town referendum approved the project’s budget at the end of April.

The 1.8-acre developed portion of the site includes a path circling through woodlands and meadows, eventually meandering to a water feature. A sycamore tree planted in the center of the fountain is designed to sit on a granite basin engraved with the victims’ names. Floatable candles and flowers can be used in the water around the tree.

“We wanted to acknowledge that the healing process does not end, but continues and grows,” co-designer Daniel Affleck, who grew up nearby in West Hartford, Conn., said in a statement. “This finds its expression in both the plantings and reflecting pool, which reflect the seasonality of nature and constant change through the movement of water.”

Co-designer Ben Waldo, added “The path has no true beginning or end, which allows visitors to experience the space at their own pace and in their own way, while always bringing them closer together.”
The project team includes civil engineer JMC, structural engineer GNCB, lighting designers from Atelier Ten and Fluidity—a water feature design company. Local firm Artemis Landscape Architects is working on planting and construction administration.

Tara Vincenta, the principal and owner of Artemis, is also a Sandy Hook resident. “I am honored to be a part of the team to offer healing through this nature based memorial,” she says, “both to the community and the families of those affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy.”

In Scope

After selecting SWA’s $10-million-plus design in August 2018, the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission set to work cutting the publicly-funded project’s scope down to a more affordable scale. The commission put no limit on project cost for the competition but some elements cut from the project design could be added later. For example, bridges crossing two ponds “can always be built at another time,” Mitchell says. 

A reduced landscaping budget created a “significant challenge” for Vincenta and her team. “We worked hard to maintain the spirit and vision put forth by SWA on this nature-based project within the cost reductions,” she said. “We reduced the number and sizes of plantings and are hoping to receive allowable in-kind donations for some of the more significant trees on the project to help create a richer natural environment while mitigating costs.” 

She added the team is looking into value-engineered options, including for the project's lighting design. 

Mitchell also credited Downes for helping condense the project after the town hired the firm as construction manager last summer. Anderson says Downes not only helped reduce the amount of granite in the water feature, but they also changed “how that granite would be fabricated in order to maintain a consistent size to streamline that process.”

“The challenge for the design team during this scaling back, if you will, was still maintaining the look and feel of the original concept. I think we have achieved that," he said.


Anderson now has turned his attention to procuring materials and components “in light of the current market trends with escalation and lead times,” he says, including precast structures, stormwater detention systems, stainless steel components, pumping and water treatment equipment and PVC piping and fittings. 

Mitchell says the team can postpone buying trees and plantings, anticipating costs decrease over the winter. He said site clearing and excavation should also be complete by winter, setting the stage for out-of-ground construction this spring.

“Now that bids have come in, the project is in good shape,” Mitchell says. “The project team has really pulled together … but it has to be done prior to 10th anniversary, which doesn’t give us much time.”

The tight schedule isn’t the only thing giving Anderson’s team members a “heightened sense of responsibility.” He says they are also working “to ensure that the completed project meets the expectations of the loved ones who lost someone on that day, but also to the state of Connecticut and the nation as a whole.”