Twenty years after the Columbine shooting, Jefferson County Public Schools is considering rebuilding the high school in a nearby location with the hope that it stops being a pilgrimage site for people obsessed with the killings.
Superintendent Jason Glass announced an “exploratory effort” to see how community members feel about the idea in a letter posted online and at Thursday’s school board meeting.
The 1999 shooting killed 12 students and one teacher and injured 21 others.
Glass explained at the board meeting that tourists still flock to see the school to this day because of the horrific event. Local law enforcement and school security officers make contact with hundreds of people every year who try to enter the school, Glass said in his letter.
“I think what brought this all to a head was the recognition that this is not going away,” Glass said. “In fact, it’s increasing.”
As the Columbine anniversary approached in April, a young woman who was reportedly “infatuated” with the shooting traveled from Florida to Colorado and purchased a gun, prompting first a lockout of Columbine and other Jeffco schools before classes were canceled the next day throughout the Denver metro area. In the darker corners of the internet, a loose community of people who call themselves “Columbiners” — obsessed with both the shooting and the shooters — has flourished and grown.
“Can we do something to remove an origin point for the contagion of school shootings?” Glass said in the meeting.
In the letter, Glass said the new school would be built to the west of the current school, and would retain the same name of Columbine High School, “honoring the pride and spirit the community has with the name.”
When asked why the district is considering preserving the name, Glass said that after the shooting, “there was a real sense of pride in the community, that they would not let this incident define them, and we stand up in spite of that. So, it really came from talking with people who work at the school, victims and survivors, and other people in the Columbine community. There is a palpable sense of pride.”
Glass said the school would also retain the same mascot and colors.
Columbine High School tore down its old library, where many students died, immediately following the shooting, and built a new one, naming it the Hope Library, in honor of the students killed. Glass said the district would like to preserve that library and make it a cornerstone of the new building.
To pay for construction costs, Glass said the district would need to ask voters for a tax increase that could generate an additional $60 million to 70 million in funding. That’s the equivalent of between $1 and $2 more per month in property taxes for a $500,000 home.
In the letter, Glass noted that many school safety experts now recommend tearing down buildings where school shootings take place. Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, was torn down and rebuilt after the 2012 shooting that killed 26 people, most of them first-graders. The freshman building at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is closed but remains standing as evidence in the pending trial of the alleged shooter.
“Since the morbid fascination with Columbine has been increasing over the years, rather than dissipating, we believe it is time for our community to consider this option for the existing Columbine building,” Glass wrote.
Glass said the district is looking for community feedback on the proposal. Complete an online survey about it here.