A small part of the prison is visible behind Chapman School in Cheshire, Nov. 1, 2013. | Christopher Zajac / Record-Journal
November 3, 2013 01:00AM
By Jesse Buchanan
A chain-link fence, guardrail and bustling Route 10 separates Chapman Elementary School from three state prisons. Trees mostly obscure big Cheshire, as the oldest and most secure of the prisons in town is called, from the playground of Chapman but it sits just across the street.
The presence of incarcerated criminals so near a school isn’t a matter of concern to school parents, who have accepted the presence of the century-old prison.
“It’s just kind of there,” said Dan Miller, president of Chapman’s PTA. “I feel pretty safe even though there is a prison across the street.”
Most public schools in Meriden, Wallingford, Southington and Cheshire are tucked in residential neighborhoods and off main thoroughfares. But some, like Cheshire’s Chapman School, have unusual neighbors or are more prominently located next to businesses and other organizations.
A plan in Southington to put a meal kitchen for the needy next to Derynoski Elementary School met with resistance from parents concerned about the kitchen’s clientele who might loiter near the school. Bread for Life and the Board of Education are now looking for another location in town for the meal kitchen.
A McDonald’s restaurant and a pawn shop are adjacent to Meriden’s Benjamin Franklin Elementary School at the intersection of West Main Street and Chamberlain Highway. Car and foot traffic has been a concern for parents, according to Meriden School Superintendent Mark Benigni.
“There’s always a concern about traffic patterns,” he said. “Not only do you have a significant amount of traffic, you have older students coming through the parking lot to go to McDonald’s.”
The school works to keep a secure building at all times and keep people from wandering the property, Benigni said.
While the nearby businesses contribute to traffic, they’ve also helped the schools through donations and internships. McDonald’s has contributed to Benjamin Franklin School, Benigni said, while MidState Medical Center near John Barry School has offered internships to students.
“Sometimes the proximity of our schools to businesses can open up opportunities,” he said.
Derynoski School is Southington’s former high school and located downtown. Easy access to the school’s playground, which is difficult to monitor after school hours, has led to teens using it as place to hang out, drink and do drugs, officials said.
“We’ve been fighting that battle for as long as I’ve been here and many years before,” said Southington School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr.
The school has benefited from being across the street from the library, though, which offers volunteer opportunities to Derynoski students.
As in other towns, parents’ concerns are mostly with surrounding traffic. In some cases that’s self-imposed, according to Erardi, since many children who could walk or take the bus are driven to school by their parents.
“Much of our traffic congestion has to do with multiplying the number that could be there by two or three,” he said.
The Cheshire prison predated Chapman School, which was built in the 1950s, according to Cheshire School Superintendent Greg Florio. Proximity to the prison led to security measures that were advanced for the time, such as security cameras installed in the 1980s.
“That building had security cameras before they were common to schools,” Florio said. Other town schools installed cameras after the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999.
The school has only gone into lockdown once due to a lockdown at the prison. Florio said the event predated his arrival in the Cheshire schools in 1991.
Prison officials do a good job of communicating with neighbors and Florio doesn’t hear concerns from parents.
“There was never any danger outside of the prison,” he said.
Miller said he hasn’t heard complaints from parents regarding prison safety concerns and doesn’t have any himself.
“I send my daughter there every day and there has never been any problem with the prison,” he said.