NEWTOWN, Conn. -- After nearly four years away, the students at Sandy Hook Elementary School are finally back where they belong — in Newtown.
With its multi-colored glass panels, colorful sunshades and open courtyards, the new Sandy Hook School on Dickinson Drive in Newtown is now complete and ready to welcome students on Aug. 29, their first day of a new year of school.
On Friday morning, about 100 members of the media were given access to the 86,800-square-foot school to take guided tours as well as hear from the individuals who were responsible for its creation.
Features of the new school — which carried a $50 million price tag paid by the state — reflect its theme of nature, including a mural of a flock of birds in flight in the main office and rotating kinetic mobiles of metallic leaves in the lobby.
The old Sandy Hook School was razed after 20 first-graders and six educators were killed by a lone gunman on Dec. 14, 2012. Since then, the students have attended classes in a building in Monroe.
"Monroe is kind and generous for allowing us to use their building, but our focus was always to bring our students home to our Sandy Hook community," Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra said Friday.
"Sandy Hook School will be a place that inspires kindness," she said.
Newtown superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. said about 60 percent of the original staff members are returning to the new school on opening day.
Of the students who were enrolled in the building that sad day, about 65 to 70 will be returning. They left as kindergartners, but this fall they will be fourth-graders, according to Erardi.
In total, over 450 preschool through Grade 4 students will be entering the new school, which was built at the same site as the old one but in a different footprint.
"The intent of this building is a warm and comfortable environment for our students," Erardi said.
Safety is part of the design, too. "It will be a gated school," Erardi said. "When a visitor comes through, their first stop will be at a surveillance gate. All visitors will then come through the main entrance. The entrance will always be locked. There will be surveillance cameras throughout the building."
Llodra added that all the windows and doors of the school are bulletproof.
Jay Brotman, managing partner of Svigals and Partners Architects who designed the new school, thanked the town's residents for their input.
"We saw from the beginning it was imperative that the community be part of the process of creating the new school," he said.
Brotman held a series of workshops with 50 community members "who told us what they wanted to see in their school that was special," he said.
Matthew Consigli is president of Consigli Construction Co. Inc., which built the new school.
"We began this project three years ago with the common goal of creating and building a warm and inspiring environment for the children of this community," he said.
Consigli said he felt humbled and privileged to build the school. "As a father of three young children, this was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life."
Llodra said she looks forward to seeing the excitement on the kids' faces when they arrive on their first day "at a school that was designed to speak to the hearts of young people.
"They will be happy to be home."