Sunday, November 25, 2001

From right, Hannah Harper, Katelyn Orr and Josephine Tueller
ate lunch Monday in the Laie Elementary School cafeteria. The
30-year-old cafeteria cannot accommodate the school's 650 students
all at once, so they must eat in three shifts.

Laie pushes
cafeteria expansion

A hearing will be held on the
plan for the elementary school

By Rosemarie Bernardo

At 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, a line of students snaked around the cafeteria at Laie Elementary School for lunch. By noon, each table teemed with children. The last students to come in were squeezed in at the ends of crowded benches.

Fifth-grader Manti Teo said: "We're all squished. ... Not everybody can fit on one table."

Sixth-grader Brianne Huddy agreed: "Our elbows can't move."

Laie Elementary's jam-packed cafeteria prompted the state to propose expanding the dining area. A public hearing will be held 10:30 a.m. Dec. 21 in the Laie Elementary School cafeteria for a permit to expand the cafeteria by 3,600 square feet, or more than 50 percent.

The cafeteria, which is about 30 years old, cannot accommodate all students at one time. Lunches are held in three 30-minute shifts starting at 10:45 a.m. With a larger dining area, students will be able to eat in two shifts; officials hope to separate younger students from older ones.

"We're rushing the kids in and out of the cafeteria," said sixth-grade teacher Paula Pasol. Students at the end of the line have a shorter time to eat their lunch than others.

"They have only 15 minutes to eat their lunch and they're out of there. If they have 20 minutes, it would be better," she said.

The expansion will also allow schoolwide assemblies to be held indoors, especially during rainy or hot days.

Children become restless under the hot sun, said fourth-grade teacher Jo-Ann Keliikuli.

According to Vice Principal Jerry Smith, cafeteria expansion has been a concern since 1987. At that time, more than 900 students attended Laie Elementary School. Currently, there are about 650 students enrolled.

Smith said the expansion will be able to fit the entire student body, and faculty and staff members.

The cafeteria is currently designed to house 196 students during lunch and 421 during assemblies.

Money has been appropriated for the addition before, but no action has been taken, said Pasol, who has been working at the school for 16 years.

"Just because we're an old school doesn't mean we can be pushed aside," she said, adding that a new cafeteria was built at Sunset Beach Elementary School.

Raynor Minami, director of the state Facilities & Support Services Branch of the Department of Education, said the state's priority is to improve schools that need classrooms.

The Laie addition will include an expanded kitchen, new heater and electrical room, a tray return, wash area, locker room, mechanical and electrical improvements, and a faculty dining room.

Meetings, informational briefings and political rallies are held in the cafeteria, said Pane Meatoga, president of the Laie Community Association. The A-Plus Program is also primarily held in the cafeteria.

Recently, the school implemented a "Read Aloud Program" that is held in the cafeteria. Smith said more than 700 parents and children attended the event, held periodically at the school. A tent was placed next to the cafeteria to accommodate those who could not fit in the building.

The state has appropriated $885,000 for design and construction costs for the expansion. Construction is tentatively scheduled to start in March and end in December 2002.

When it is finished, no one will have to stand outside when the school has a schoolwide assembly, Smith said.

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