Featured News - Current News - Archived News - News Categories

The Grand Island Fire Co. responded to a Saturday afternoon fire at 2710 Grand Island Blvd. (Photos by Michael J. Billoni)
The Grand Island Fire Co. responded to a Saturday afternoon fire at 2710 Grand Island Blvd. (Photos by Michael J. Billoni)

School district, community working to support KinderKiddz after devastating fire

Sat, Jun 8th 2024 10:00 am

Story by Alice Gerard

With Additional Reporting and Photos by Michael J. Billoni

Senior Contributing Writers

School resumed Thursday at Sidway Elementary School for 31 pre-kindergarten students, who lost their school as the result of Saturday’s devastating fire at KinderKiddz Learning Center.

“We are very excited to welcome parents and children from KinderKiddz, who are part of our pre-kindergarten program, to join us Thursday at 8:30 or 8:40 a.m.,” said Dr. Brian Graham, superintendent of the Grand Island Central School District, on Wednesday morning. “Those families will come and will get to see the school and see their classrooms and see their teachers. After a short visit with their teachers, the parents will go and meet with Mr. Antonelli, our principal, to get an update of what it’s like to be at Sidway. What are some of the guidelines and start and end times and all the important elements that are necessary for parents to understand as it relates to starting in a new school.”

Efforts to help and support children, their families, along with teachers and other staff members affected by Saturday’s fire at KinderKiddz, 2710 Grand Island Blvd., began Saturday, while the fire was still smoldering.

The damage to the structure was estimated to be approximately $2 million.

Omar Sortino, chief of the Grand Island Fire Co., described the events of Saturday: “Our assistant chief, Don Turner, was the acting command officer, when the first call was received at 12:47 p.m. Four hours later, we left the scene. He oversaw the mutual aid from our neighboring fire companies. They all worked together to battle this fire, which is under investigation by the Erie County Sheriff’s Department. Once our firefighters got inside the building, they saw smoke and flames up in the roof area, so they had to attack it through the roof to battle the flames inside.”

According to news reports, investigators suspect the fire was caused by an electronic device that was charging in the building, which was unoccupied on Saturday.

The school district, other child care centers, and the community responded immediately with expressions of sadness or offers to help the families affected by the fire. At Monday’s Grand Island Central School District Board of Education meeting, Graham shared part of a survey done over the weekend of families of children in the two universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) classes at KinderKiddz.

“Our hearts really go out to the families and students, the owners of KinderKiddz, their teachers, their staff,” he said. “It was very difficult. One parent responded to the survey and said that her child was inconsolable because of this fire. Oftentimes, we forget that it impacts families and children, even surprising us.”

GIFC was assisted by several mutual aid first-responding companies. (Photo by Michael J. Billoni)


Staff members posted on Facebook about their sadness at being separated from their small students. Offers of assistance came via social media even before the fire was completely extinguished. One offer, from St. Timothy Lutheran Childcare, 1453 Staley Road, was for enrollment opportunities.

“We are here to provide a safe, nurturing environment for the children during this challenging time,” according to the post on the Grander Ideas for Grand Island page.

A request for material support for KinderKiddz families came from Care a Lot, along with this note: “As many of you know there was a devastating fire at KinderKiddz in Grand Island this weekend. Our hearts are broken for our neighbors. As you know, your child’s day care is their second home stocked up with personal supplies. We are taking up a collection at our Grand Island location (2475 Grand Island Blvd.) for the families who lost items in the fire. If you can and would like to donate the following items, we will make sure we get them to the families of KinderKiddz. Thank you!”

The items listed include diapers, wipes, extra clothes (all child sizes), bathing suits (all child sizes), water shoes (all child sizes), beach towels, blankets for nap time, sunscreen, and reusable water bottles.

Offers of help also came from Lauren Ratajczak, Amy Grant Fox, Kim Walden and Julie Kilmer Grunzweig.

Because KinderKiddz, which hosts two UPK classrooms, is an approved provider or a community partner contracting with the school district, the district started immediately to work on relocating those classrooms.

“We heard about this fire at KinderKiddz on Saturday, and we heard a lot of fire companies reported,” Graham said. “Luckily, no one was injured. But, immediately on Saturday, we knew it was a big event and a fire emergency. So myself, Mike Lauria (assistant superintendent for curriculum, staff development and human resources), Mike Antonelli (principal of Sidway Elementary School), Felicia Pallaci (principal of Kaegebein Elementary School) and Max Pikula (principal of Huth Road Elementary School), Cheryl Cardone (assistant superintendent for special education/pupil personnel services), and Bob Merkle (assistant superintendent for school business and finance) all began to communicate what we could do to support our UPK kids who are there.”

“We were really proactive,” Lauria said. “We toured all our buildings with each principal, to try to find a site for us to welcome and, hopefully, get two temporary classrooms ready.

“It has been a really fulfilling day, just to see this Island come together and work to try to accomplish something great so we can make sure those kids are in our classrooms. Every single person I’ve come across: Theresa Alizadeh (transportation supervisor) with busing for after-school care, our buildings and grounds team, our clerks. Everyone is stepping in. ‘What do we need to do? How are we going to do it? What can I help with?’ ”

“Having learned about it over the weekend and, originally, we were thinking, I would give them one of the classrooms, we had a plan,” Antonelli said. “We started meetings today (Monday) with some staff, with feedback from the state, that Sidway would be the best option. Mr. Lauria and I walked through the school, and we found another space that we could make work. It was all hands on deck, so buildings and grounds came over to take apart some equipment. We moved some stuff out. We relocated people inside the building. We were in the basement after school today, finding toys and school supplies. There are a few things that we still have to pick up. They are really nice rooms, and the children are going to be able to do their preschool graduations in a few weeks.”

The children in the KinderKiddz UPK classes had just recently visited Sidway Elementary School to see what school would be like when they start kindergarten in September.

“The good news is that they did come on tour last week with me because they are going to be kindergarteners,” Antonelli said. “They got to meet all of the kids, meet the teachers. I went to their school, read them a book. They came over last week to tour Sidway. They are a little familiar with me and the school, so that helps.”

Lauria said there were hoops the school district had to jump through to create the opportunity for KinderKiddz students to move to Sidway.

“We’re governed by the state through our federal UPK grant,” Lauria said, noting issues that needed to be discussed included placing both classes in Sidway, as well as the logistics of food service and getting the children qualified for free and reduced-price lunches. “We also had to talk about start times and end times and transportation. Not so much our transportation to a pre-K program, but to after school care.

“The UPK program is governed by a different agency, which is the Office of Child and Family Services. They are also working to get their approvals in order. Everything takes a little bit of time and red tape. We have to finalize everything. But I know that Bob Merkle has also been working to get contracts in order so that we can make sure that those are OK, because KinderKiddz is technically paying them (staff) with our money; so now, we have to figure out how to flip that back a little. But, for the most part, we think we can do this pretty quickly. Everyone’s been very supportive.”

Graham said he wanted to acknowledge the efforts of several people in the district who worked to make it possible for the KinderKiddz UPK classes to finish their school year at Sidway Elementary School.

“Mike (Lauria) did a great job, helping to lead all of us to come up with some solutions,” Graham said. “I do want to recognize Jill Morrish, who works with Mike in the curriculum office. She was boating over the weekend, and she was also in communication with us and helped us understand who the children were and their families.

“Bob Merkle’s been creating legal agreements that he’s run by our legal team and sending them to state ed. for their review. Cheryl Cardone is involved with many children in universal pre-kindergarten who receive speech therapy and other therapies and making sure that their services stay intact. Mike Antonelli, just amazing work, not only over the weekend, but working with your teachers, your speech therapists, your occupational and physical therapists to create spaces that didn’t exist before. And to pivot, when we learned that the state really wanted to use Sidway to make it easier and to get kids in quicker.”

KinderKiddz is currently listed as “temporarily closed” on the internet.

Shellina Patel, owner/operator of KinderKiddz, said, “While this is a devastating loss, we are thankful no one was hurt, and no lives were lost. We appreciate all the help we are receiving from the Grand Island School District, as well as other centers in the community, who have stepped up to help with the care for the children. I would also like to thank my admin staff for their ability to remain calm and focused through this life-altering situation so we can all work effectively and efficiently to help our parents, our children, and our staff.

“Thanks also goes to all the parents, friends, family, and the entire Grand Island community for their prayers, help and support. We are also working diligently with the insurance company for the restart of the business. We still don’t have a time frame, but we would like to reopen as soon as we possibly can.”

Graham said, “We would like to send our best wishes to the owners of KinderKiddz, their teachers and staff, their parents, their students, and the children they serve as they recover from Saturday’s fire, which, luckily, did not injure anyone.”

Hometown News

View All News