Former Columbine Principal Supports Tearing Down The School Building. One Shooting Victim’s Daughter Says It’s Too Late

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<p>Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite</p>
<p>Coni Sanders speaks to reporters inside Columbine High School, March 23, 2019. </p>
Photo: Coni Sanders - Since Columbine
Coni Sanders speaks to reporters inside Columbine High School, March 23, 2019.

Every year, Coni Sanders visits a flower etched into the floor at Columbine High School. It marks the spot where her father Dave, who taught there for more than 20 years, was killed on April 20, 1999.

So when she heard this week about a preliminary proposal from the Jefferson County School District to tear down the building and construct a new one, it felt like a heavy blow.

“I'm upset,” Sanders said. “This needs to be the type of thing that gets the vote of the entire community. The people that have gone there in the past, the faculty, the staff — everybody that has been there.”

Sanders said she is sympathetic to the district’s reasoning for a new building. Jefferson County Superintendent Jason Glass wrote in a letter that continued public attention and an obsession with the physical building have made keeping the school secure a supremely difficult task. Glass also made clear in an interview that no decision has been made yet.

“Over the next couple of months we'll also be engaged in face-to-face and heart-to-heart discussions around what people really think about this to see what, if anything, we want to do going forward,” Glass told CPR News.

Photo: Columbine ex-principal Frank DeAngelis
Frank DeAngelis was principal of Columbine High School for nearly 20 years, including during the shooting there in April 1999.

Glass also said the school board is considering asking voters for up to $70 million to construct a new Columbine. Former Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis, who led the school at the time of the shooting, said he supports tearing down the building, citing the threats Glass wrote about in his letter.

“If the building were not there, if it were at a different site, that could curb some of the activities that are going on by some of these people that visit,” he said. He also supports keeping the Columbine name and mascot, the Rebels.

But Sanders questions whether a new building will actually deter unwanted visitors.

“Twenty years ago, maybe this would've worked,” she said. “But there are already people fascinated by it. They're not going to know that the school moved a block over. …. They're still going to try to go to Columbine.”

Sanders, a therapist, said she’d rather see the district spend more money on mental health services for students. A district spokeswoman said cuts made to those services three years ago have mostly been reversed and a mill levy override passed by voters last year is helping pay for expanded mental health supports.

The district is collecting feedback over the next few weeks in an online survey. Glass said he expects broader community discussions to take at least a few months.

CPR reporters Alison Borden and Andrea Dukakis contributed to this story.