Balloons hang on a sign at the entrance to Sandy Hook School in this Dec. 15 photo in Newtown, Conn. The future of the school, where a gunman killed 26 people last month, is being debated. / Don Emmert, AFP/Getty Images
NEWTOWN, Conn. - Students, teachers and staff should not return to Sandy Hook Elementary School in the wake of last month's massacre that left 20 children and six adults dead, many residents said at a town discussion Friday night.
About 150 people attended the discussion, including 19 who publicly expressed their opinions, in a lecture hall at Newtown High School, less than two miles from the site of the Dec. 14 school shootings.
It was the second such gathering about the fate of the school. More than 300 Newtown residents attended the previous discussion on Jan. 13, when no consensus was reached.
Varying ideas raised at both discussions underscored how difficult it may be for Newtown officials to decide what action to take: return students to the school, renovate or raze the building, or build a new school.
At Friday's discussion, Sandy Hook resident Jackie Hornak fought back tears and said she has "never been more proud of this town than right now."
Hornak said Sandy Hook Elementary School should be taken down and a memorial put in its place.
Another Sandy Hook resident, police officer Todd Keeping, said he stood in front of the school two days after the shooting, "and you cannot ask anyone to go back in there."
Keeping said it's the people and the children - not the building - that "make it Sandy Hook school." If local residents want to retain the current staff of teachers who work at the school - something expressed by every parent who spoke publicly at the two discussions - "you can't ask them to go back."
Like students and many others in the Newtown community, teachers and staff still are traumatized by the shootings. Adam Lanza, 20, a former student at the Sandy Hook school, killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, in their Sandy Hook home and then killed 26 people at the school before committing suicide.
Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra, the town's chief executive, said the two town discussions were just the starting point toward a decision about the fate of the school.
Llodra said meetings must still be held with, among others, teachers and school administrators, Sandy Hook families who lost a family member in the shootings, and state and local officials.
Under a "best-case scenario," Llodra said she hopes town officials will make a recommendation about what to do with the school this spring.
Llodra said that if the town decides to build a new school, it "takes a long time" to get such a project completed.
She said the only site in Sandy Hook suitable for a new school is the existing site of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Another site in Newtown is also a possibility, she said.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., who will be serving on a congressional task force on gun violence prevention, said Newtown should decide how it wants to move forward with the school, and Congress will help make it happen.
Esty said the "leadership and heart" of the Newtown community "is shining out to the world."
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