The newly renovated cafeteria in the Rae C. Stedman Elementary School opened to students September 16, 2019. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

The cafeteria renovation at the Petersburg elementary school is finished sooner than expected. The school district says students are using the new cafeteria starting September 16. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

At the start of school the district thought that the new elementary cafeteria was not going to be ready for students until mid-October. But the finishing work went faster than expected.

Erica Kludt-Painter is the Superintendent of the Petersburg School District.

“Our elementary kitchen renovation and cafeteria is actually almost done,” she said.

The new cafeteria is much bigger. It has separate areas for cooking and for eating. It also has its own laundry facility. It has a handwashing sink and a water bottle filling station. There is also an indoor freezer instead of one being outside near the playground.

The district expects the elementary students to be eating in the new space this week.

The youngest elementary students have been eating meals at the Catholic Church Social Hall across the street. Kludt-Painter says the church really stepped up and helped the school out.

“When we really realized that we might be displaced for–at that point we were thinking into October–we thought we’re just going to have kids eat outside for a week or so but it was potentially turning into a maybe a month and really like four days before school started we actually reached out and communicated with a few people in the Catholic Church because it’s so close and they were super accommodating, very willing to help us out.” Kludt-Painter said, “So, our elementary kids have been walking across the street back and forth and having breakfast and lunch over there. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

The newly renovated cafeteria in the Rae C. Stedman Elementary School features two hand washing stations. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

School Board President Mara Lutomski encourages parents, grandparents, and guardians of students to visit the new cafeteria and eat lunch with the kids.

“It really is one of the best lunches in town,” she said. “Check in at the office, head on down to the cafeteria and eat some delicious food that’s made by our staff in our new kitchen.”

The Viking café at the middle and high school was renovated over the summer and has been opened to students since the start of school. Kludt-Painter says the older grade school students have been eating there for their lunches, walking over from the elementary school.

“It’s beautiful if you haven’t stopped by,” Kludt-Painter said. “It just looks great and [we’re]  so excited about the kitchen in there.”

The cafeteria projects have cost $1.6 million in state funding with about a half million dollars in local matching money.