Kitchen fast-tracks rebuilding

Last modified: 5/24/2011 12:00:00 AM
The Friendly Kitchen could reopen in its own building by Thanksgiving, the nonprofit's leaders said last night as they unveiled an ambitious plan to rebuild the city's only soup kitchen.

'We're trying to get back up and running as fast as we can,' said Michael Lenehan, president of the soup kitchen's board of directors.

The plans were announced a little more than three weeks after a fire gutted part of the building at 14 Montgomery St. and sent two people to the hospital. The group wants to raze the burned-out structure and construct a new, two-story building in its place, with a 100-person dining room overlooked by a mezzanine and accompanied by a large kitchen.

Attorney Richard Uchida said the group aims to get the green light from the city zoning and planning boards by mid-June. Construction could be under way by this time next month, said Jonathan Halle of Warrenstreet Architects, and the kitchen could conceivably 'serve Thanksgiving dinner in the building.'

Planning has moved so swiftly that the organizers don't know yet how much the new building will cost.

'We're working on it right now,' said Jerry Kingwill, president of Cobb Hill Construction, who - like Halle, Uchida and fellow Orr & Reno attorney Michael Cretella - is working on the project pro bono.

The Friendly Kitchen began serving meals to Concord's hungry in 1980 and moved into the Montgomery Street building in 1999. It was christened Hope House, after then-president and current board member Hope Butterworth.

After the April 30 fire, the operation moved to nearby Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on North State Street. Lenehan said the church has been generous in offering its space, but the soup kitchen doesn't want to remain there indefinitely.

Hence the plan to rebuild.

The new building, Halle said, would place the kitchen in the front, facing Montgomery Street, for easier deliveries. An entrance courtyard would be built along the south side, with entry into an open dining room. The first floor would also hold two bathrooms and an office.

'We served an amazing number of meals in the space we had,' said board member Bruce Parrish, adding that the new building's design 'will make it so much easier for our volunteers to work and so much more comfortable for our guests.'

Butterworth echoed Parrish and other board members in saying the new design improves on the old building.

'You can see that this is a better structure,' she said. 'You can see the whole dining room at once.'

Uchida said a meeting with neighbors is planned next week and the project will go before the zoning board June 8. The city agreed to move back the board's regular monthly meeting by a week, he said. It requires several variances, including permission to have no parking spaces instead of the 32 that otherwise would be required - few clients drive, Uchida said, and the old building also didn't have parking.

If zoning approvals are granted, he said, the project will go before the planning board June 15. Typically, a major site plan application is accepted by the board, then held for a month before a public hearing is held and a decision rendered. Uchida said the nonprofit will ask the board to waive that delay and approve it right away.

The demolition of the old building, which Uchida said was built about 1920, must also go through the city's Demolition Review Committee, which has the power to delay a demolition for 49 days if a building is considered historically significant. Chairman Fred Richards last night said the committee hadn't yet reviewed the application.

Another question mark is money. Kingwill said the group could have an estimated price tag for the project by the end of the week.

Lenehan said the building's insurer is expected to offer a settlement within days, and he declined to give an estimate of how much the insurance will pay out. But Parrish has said it likely won't cover the full cost of rebuilding.

Concord residents and businesses have been sending in donations and organizing fundraisers almost since the flames were extinguished. Kitchen manager Jennifer Lombardo said, as of Sunday, some $95,000 had been raised for the rebuilding effort.

And the city council will decide next month whether to apply for up to $500,000 in federal Community Development Block Grants for the project.

'We've been so fortunate to have the community that we do,' Lenehan said.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or

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