Plan to demolish Columbine, site of one of deadliest US school shootings, scrapped

The district will try to strengthen the perimeter around Columbine to make it safer and more private as part of a US$15 million renovation. PHOTO: AFP

DENVER (NYTIMES) - Facing community opposition, a Colorado school district said on Wednesday (July 24) that it would drop a proposal to tear down Columbine High School, which has been confronting growing threats and thousands of curious trespassers since the 1999 massacre there.

In June, the Jefferson County Public Schools in suburban Denver asked for community input on what, to many, was a radical idea to reduce Columbine's morbid allure. The district proposed razing most of the school building and rebuilding it farther from the road, where unwanted visitors now pull over to take photos or traipse onto school grounds.

While the plan was supported by Columbine's former principal and the school district's head of security, it hit an emotional nerve for many in the community. Some said the plan was too expensive and disruptive and would not solve the problem of so-called Columbiners, people obsessed with the April 1999 school shooting that killed 12 students and a teacher. Others said tearing down Columbine - even 20 years later - would be a capitulation to school shooters.

"It was very emotional," said Frank DeAngelis, who was principal at Columbine during the attack and for years after. "There's a lot of history at Columbine."

Nearly 60 per cent of those who replied to a school district survey opposed the idea and indicated they would not vote for a bond needed to pay for the US$70 million (S$95.5 million) project.

Jefferson County superintendent Jason E. Glass said in an open letter on Wednesday that the district would instead try to strengthen the perimeter around Columbine to make it safer and more private as part of a US$15 million renovation. One possibility was a new fence around the school or changes to how people enter the building, said John McDonald, the school district's director of security.

"We understand the community isn't ready to say goodbye to Columbine; I get that," McDonald said. "But we still have to do something."

Fears about Columbine's enduring appeal to those fascinated by school shootings reached a fever pitch this April, in the days before the 20th anniversary of the shooting. At one point, law enforcement began an extensive search for an 18-year-old woman who they said had been infatuated with Columbine and had flown to Colorado from Florida. She killed herself in the mountains west of Denver.

Other schools have also wrestled with what to do with the buildings where mass shootings have occurred.

The school district in Newtown, Connecticut in 2013 demolished Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 people were killed the previous year, and built a new school elsewhere on the property.

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, a facility replacing the building where 17 people were killed last year is expected to open for the 2020 school year.

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