A flat screen TV, lights that turn on when the room is entered, and a high-powered sound system.

A flat screen TV, lights that turn on when the room is entered, and a high-powered sound system.

It may sound like the dream living room, but it’s actually the new Dolphin Café at Port St. Joe Elementary School.

The $1 million renovation built with funds from the state’s Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) budget was completed last week and opened to students for the first time on Monday.

As Principal Sue Gannon cut the ribbon across the serving line door, Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton thanked school board members Linda Wood and George Cox and Reggie Kemp from Ajax Construction, project manager, for their time and dedication to the project.

During the 10-month construction period, students ate their lunches in the gymnasium creating a burden when it came to coordinating lunch time and physical education classes.

Before the renovation, the lunchroom was split down the middle by a standing wall that made supervising lunch times difficult for the teachers.

“It was a nightmare,” said Melissa Ramsey, former principal and now Coordinator of Curriculum, Assessment and Staff Development.

The space is open and airy and the new reinforced windows fill the area with natural light. Even with over 100 seats, the room can be supervised by fewer teachers allowing them more time to focus on students.

Norton pointed out that the school was able to recycle almost all of the old kitchen equipment but appreciated the new additions that included a walk-in refrigerator and freezer, a dry pantry, and a pass-through cooler and oven to ensure that all food was served at ideal temperature. Other additions include two new restrooms and a healthy snack bar, two items that the old room never had.

Head cook, Brenda Fisher smiled as the children piled in for their first lunch in the new café.

“It used to be so crowded,” said Fisher. “We have so much room. It’s so much better.”

Norton pointed out the air conditioning duct socks which inflate when the unit runs and deflate when not in use. This state-of-the-art technology allows the room to be cooled while still preserving the view through the windows.

The duct socks are dressed in the Dolphin’s home colors of purple and gold.

The late Jim Emerson of Emerson’s Heating and Cooling served as lead contractor for the project and was “so passionate” about utilizing the technology that he contributed money from his own pocket.

Students ate pizza, smiled and danced as upbeat music played through the speakers and soon the first lunch period came to a close.

As the children began to file out to their next class, Ramsey continued to admire the completed room and added, “We’ve been waiting a long time for this.”

The district paid for the renovations by using money left over from roofing projects in Wewahitchka. The district realized a savings of $900,000, which the state agreed could be used to fund improvements to the lunchroom at Port St. Joe Elementary School and the locker rooms at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School.