SOUTHINGTON — After parents contacted school and town officials with concerns about the proposed Bread for Life facility next to Derynoski School, the organization has asked for a 60-day continuance to search for another location in cooperation with the school system.
“We are excited to work with the Southington School System to explore other possibilities for our operations,” said Bill McDougall, Bread for Life board chairman in a statement.
“Our mission at Bread for Life is to feed the hungry in Southington and for 30 years we have fulfilled that mission with a collaborative spirit.”
Bread for Life prepares and distributes 35,000 meals annually. For years Bread for Life has been operating out of five locations. By establishing a new building, it would consolidate services in one location. A proposal before the Planning and Zoning Commission had sought to build the facility next to Derynoski School on Main Street.
A number of parents said they support Bread for Life but didn’t agree with the proposed location. In one email to the town, a parent said “it only takes one misguided individual to devastate not only a school, but our whole world as well.”
School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. said he met with McDougall and Bread for Life board members over the past couple of weeks to try to find a solution. Instead of the school board and Bread for Life being on two different sides of the proposal, Erardi said it was best to work together to maintain a collaborative relationship. They agreed on the 60-day extension on Wednesday.
“My position is that we want to collaborate with Bread for Life and what I want to do is to work with Bread for Life if they were willing, and they are, to propose a different location than what is in front of Planning and Zoning,” Erardi said.
“What that means is that (McDougall), myself and a small committee will do our absolute best to bring back to Bread for Life, the school board, and Planning and Zoning a site that will be embraced by everybody throughout Southington.”
A public input session on the matter is still scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Town Hall Council Chambers and will move forward as planned, said Michael DelSanto, Planning and Zoning Commission chairman.
After 60 days, it is up to the organization to determine its next step, he said.
McDougall said Bread for Life remains committed to a new building “and if a comparable and acceptable alternative is not identified we will move forward with our existing plans.”
PZC member Kevin Conroy said he could not comment on the organization’s application because of the upcoming public input session, but said he was glad that the two groups were working together to find a solution.
“I think that there would be an outcome that would work well for everyone,” Conroy said.
Between phone calls, emails and being approached in person at meetings, Erardi said he has heard from “well over 100 parents” regarding their concerns about the proposed location.
Creating a subcommittee to find a new area for the building was a direct result of the concerns expressed, he added.
Members of the committee have not been determined.
“We will certainly look at all aspects…” Erardi said.
Casie Messina, one of the parents who contacted officials about the proposed site, said she was worried about the homeless population being near the students during operating hours.
As with many other parents, she said she supports Bread for Life, just not the location. She was pleased to hear the possibility of finding another location.
“It makes me very happy that they have taken our concerns to heart,” Messina said.
“I hope they are able to find something in that amount of time. If they aren’t, I will still object just as strongly in 60 days.”
School Board Chairman Brian Goralski said the search will enlist help from members of the community, parents, PTO and more. He said he has high hopes a new, suitable location can be found within the 60 days.
Last month, the school board announced it unanimously opposed the planned building next to the elementary school and said safety is a priority.
“If we want to do this the right way, it shouldn’t be just Bread for Life by themselves, or Bread for Life and the Board of Education by themselves,” Goralski said.
“We will look for other people to join in and help.”