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New Sandy Hook School opens on site of Newtown shooting

A new elementary school opened Monday in Newtown, Conn. to replace the one demolished after the 2012 shooting.

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FILE - In this July 29, 2016 file photo, people attend an open house at the new Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Students attended the first day of classes there on Monday, Aug. 29, 2016. The new building replaced the one that was demolished where 20 first graders and six educators were shot and killed in December 2012. (AP Photo/, File)

Mark Lennihan/AP/File

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Nearly four years after tragedy struck Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the school is opening its doors to students again. But those doors, like the rest of the building, look a little different today than they did in 2012, when a shooting rampage killed 20 first-graders and six educators.

A new elementary school opened Monday in Newtown, replacing the Sandy Hook school that was torn down after the shooting. The replacement facility, which cost $50 million to build, stands on the same property as the old school, but bears little resemblance to its predecessor. The new building features three courtyards, study spaces designed to look like treehouses, and a moat-like rain garden, and was inspired by the "regenerative, restorative and healing elements of nature," according to the project website. 

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Newtown residents voted to tear down the old school and construct a new one after the 2012 shooting.

"They don't want to go back, and vehemently so. For some, it was just too overwhelming to go into that space again without becoming unhinged," local psychiatrist John Woodall told NPR in 2013. "You can't ask people to bear something that is, for them, unbearable."

As part of the design process, architecture firm Svigals and Partners spent months talking to people in the community, making its construction a collaborative process. 

"They were very passionately protective," said project manager Julia McFadden to local radio station WSHU. "They really communicated heartfelt feelings about wanting the whole community to come together and recreate the school in a way the town could reconnect to it. Cause they really had their heart ripped out."

Roughly 70 out of the 390 students returning to Sandy Hook this year attended the old school at the time of the shooting, school officials said. About half were in the building at the time, though none witnessed the shootings. Around 60 percent of the faculty has returned with them. 

School officials say they are meeting with the families of the shooting victims to discuss how best to remember the victims at the school. A more overt memorial will be built in another part of town, as the school will be geared more toward the future than the past. 

"That is what a school should be," said Melisa Horan, whose son attended the old Sandy Hook before the shooting, to the Associated Press. "The excitement of learning and seeing all the new stuff."

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This report contains material from the Associated Press.