SOUTHINGTON — The recent unveiling of plans for a new Bread for Life building near an elementary school has some parents questioning whether the nonprofit that specializes in feeding the needy should be located next to a school.
A few weeks ago, officials at Bread for Life revealed plans for a building that would allow them to work out of one space instead of five different areas that have been loaned to them by businesses. The location they chose was a lot next to Derynoski School and the town’s alternative high school on Main Street. Bread for Life runs a lunch program, food pantry and senior feeding program.
Although Casie Messina, a Southington resident, supports Bread for Life and their programs, she is concerned about having the building next to an elementary school with nearly 700 children.
“I think that the biggest concern is putting the homeless population (there) and having them be there during school hours,” said Messina who has three children that attend Derynoski. “My hope would be for Bread for Life to withdrawal their application and find another site.”
School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. said he’s heard from about 25 to 30 parents who expressed concern about the recent proposal. He’s encouraged them to attend Planning and Zoning Commission meetings for more information. The site plan application for the building is on the agenda during the Planning and Zoning Commission’s business meeting tonight at the Municipal Center.
“My position is that I strongly encourage the Planning and Zoning Commission to set a public hearing date so they’re able to listen to the community at large to speak to the issue before any decision is made,” Erardi said.
At the Board of education meeting last week, some parents spoke of their concerns to the board. Messina was one of them.
Board of Education chairman Brian Goralski said about a dozen parents wrote to the board expressing their apprehension about the plans to centralize near Derynoski.
“The partnership between everyone and Bread for Life is about helping people that need to be helped and doing what’s best for our neighbors,” Goralski said. “Whether or not it’s best next to our schools is a concern of the parents.”
Bread for Life board chairman Bill McDougall said he was surprised that parents would be concerned about the location of the proposed building. He and many other board members were looking forward to the potential of presenting more volunteer opportunities for students with being so close.
“We’re surprised, we’re confused,” McDougall said. “We would be more than happy to open a dialogue for anyone that has concerns. I think they might have a misconception of exactly what’s going on at Bread for Life.”
Parents were worried about the dining facility, Goralski said, and whether or not it was the best spot for it being so close to school and operating during school hours. Like Erardi, Goralski and the school board is encouraging parents to attend planning and zoning meetings to voice their opinions.
Messina is concerned that during lunch hours the people going to Bread for Life would linger outside of the building and around the school and is concerned for the safety of the students.
“There’s nobody hanging out there,” McDougall said. “They come in, eat lunch, and leave. They don’t hang out.”
Goralski and school board member David Derynoski said safety is the “number one priority” when it comes to the students. Derynoski said he doesn’t think the board will take a position on the proposed building and the decision is in the “capable hands” of planning and zoning members.
“That aspect of it will be investigated and discussed with the appropriate agencies,” Derynoski said.