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The cafeteria comes to them

From left, Belleview Elementary school third-graders Natalie Smith, Jazz Gentry and Linsay Ivey select their lunch items to eat in class.
From left, Belleview Elementary school third-graders Natalie Smith, Jazz Gentry and Linsay Ivey select their lunch items to eat in class.

When lunchtime at Belleview Elementary School rolls around, there's no mad dash for the cafeteria.

That's because the school is in the process of building a new cafeteria. The old one has been closed and is being converted into classrooms.

For now, about 600 lunches are prepared at the district's Flexible Learning Center, brought to the school in a van and then passed out in classrooms every day.

"We tried to pick items that were some of the kids' favorites and were kid-friendly," said Diana Fitzgerald, area coordinator for food services. "We try to put a treat in every day."

Students don't get a choice of what to eat, but food services is able to bring hot and cold meals to the school.

Fitzgerald said dill pickles and Rice Krispies Treats are some of the favorite food items.

Although it's different from their normal schedule, students seem perfectly content to eat lunch in classrooms.

"It's fun because we get to talk and we don't have a timer," said 8-year-old Kemani Wormley, a third-grader at Belleview.

Normally, students are asked to quietly eat their lunches until a timer signals it's OK to talk.

Wormley said she likes to talk with her friends and their teacher about what they're going to do in class.

Principal Jane Sharp cited the informal one-on-one time with teachers as an extra perk of classroom dining.

Sharp said she's been fascinated with the construction project, often stealing time to check on the progress.

"We had one of the smallest cafeterias in the district and one of the largest schools," Sharp said.

Lunch periods used to begin at 10:30 a.m. and finish at 1 p.m. Now, Sharp hopes they will start after 11 a.m. and be over by 12:30 p.m.

The larger space also will be more accommodating during special events and guest speakers because the cafeteria is the school's only large gathering spot, Sharp said.

The added classroom space will get the school's gifted-talented teacher out of the teacher's lounge and move the English to speakers of other languages teacher from a storage room to a real classroom.

John Hair, the district associate superintendent for administrative services, said Belleview's new cafeteria should be open by the beginning of December. Classrooms in the old cafeteria should be ready by the second semester.

The two lunchroom projects combined will cost about $3.6 million, Hair said.

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