Bozeman High School's brand new cafeteria opened for the first time Monday noon, and within minutes there was such a long line of students waiting to get in, it almost looked like a rock concert.
The normal first-day-of-school excitement for Bozeman's 5,400 public school students was amped up at Bozeman High.
There, 1,800 teens got their first look at the entire range of classrooms and other spaces upgraded in the school's two-year, $38 million reconstruction.
"Everything's going really well," senior Rachel Parkes, student body vice president, said of the first day of school. Teachers were in a fun mood, many pleased with classroom views of the Bridger Mountains, and students were figuring out the new layout.
"Even the seniors are like ‘Where's my class?' We feel like freshmen," Parkes said. "The cafeteria was packed today. Everybody was talking about it, (saying), ‘We've got sushi!'"
Instead of row after row of industrial-beige tables and folding chairs, the new cafeteria offers a variety of seating - booths, tables and high, bar-like stools. It has flat-screen TVs that display information about food and how to get through lines faster, as well as a "news crawl" along the bottom showing headlines from around the world.
The long line melted quickly, as more than 300 students moved through the turnstile in about 25 minutes.
Kids could choose between the new chicken curry lunch, salad with two dozen possible toppings, subway sandwiches, wraps and even California rolls with seaweed salad. Burger lovers will soon have such choices as Southwestern-style chipolte sauce, California-style with avocados and a blue-cheese-filled burger. However, the No. 1 seller Monday remained that old stand-by pizza.
The new cafeteria feels more like a college food court. Bob Burrows, support services and food supervisor, said the food service is self-supporting and gets no local taxpayer dollars and spent thousands on market research to find out what Bozeman teens want. The result is more variety and more low-fat, healthy options.
"Not only are the students top performers, (they) appreciate these upgrades," Burrows said. "There's no other program like this in Montana."
For many students, lunch is more about socializing than eating. Voices in the hallways could be heard calling, "Text me back!" "I lost my locker!" and "Where ya goin', sexy?"
As lunch wound down at 12:55 p.m., Principal Rob Watson was busy cleaning up debris and new cafeteria trays, decorated with the Hawk logo.
"It worked out about as best as we could expect the first day," Watson said.
Others were pleased with the reconstruction.
"Isn't it beautiful!" said counselor Sheri Blackwood.
Special education teacher Sierra Parsons said special education has four classrooms and more space. "I like it a lot," she said.
Orchestra teacher Michael Certalic said he's pleased to see more space in the band room and windows that don't leak in the rain, and still hopeful for a new auditorium. Considering the budget and the nearly 50-year-old buildings they had to work with - including the old Chief Joseph building where he attended junior high -- the renovation worked out "as good as it could possibly be," Certalic said.
There was a fun, first-day spirit at the elementary schools, as well.
At Emily Dickinson School, children were greeted by staff members dressed up as "The Wizard of Oz" characters. Principal Sharon Navas was the Munchkin mayor, Associate Principal Robin Arnold wore ruby slippers as Dorothy, and reading teacher Deb Matosich was the Tin Man.
Second-grade teacher Colleen Vittone, who was a pink Glinda the Good Witch, said the idea was inspired by brain-based research and the book "Wow! Adding Pizzazz to Teaching and Learning." If you want kids to remember something, it helps to do something that makes them feel "wow," she said. Teachers plan to use the Oz theme throughout the year in a variety of ways.
Superintendent Kirk Miller said he visited several schools, including the Bridger alternative program in its new home in Bozeman High. Teachers were welcoming students and things were going well everywhere, he said.
"I think it was an excellent day," Miller said. "Our staff did a wonderful job offering a warm, welcoming environment."
Gail Schontzler can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2633.