Gubser students Asher Tompkins, left, Kaili Garcia and Jacob Garcia cut a ribbon in the new school cafeteria on Aug. 29, 2019. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Angel Carter is used to cleaning milk off student’s chairs.

Until this year, it was part of the job for the Gubser Elementary School third grade teacher.

The school, built in 1977, had a cafeteria so small it could only accommodate students eating hot lunch, and even that group had to be split into several meal times.

[ KEEP YOUR LOCAL NEWS STRONG - SUBSCRIBE ]

Parents and students sit in the new Gubser Elementary School cafeteria during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Aug. 29, 2019. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Students who brought lunch from home instead ate in the small common areas called “pods” outside clusters of classrooms.

The tables, designed for small-group schoolwork, had to be hastily cleaned between lunch and class, sometimes resulting in Carter and other teachers giving up their own lunch time to pick up food.

Before the new cafeteria was built, Gubser students ate sack lunches in "pods" like this one, which were built for classroom activities. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

But next week, Gubser opens its doors with a new cafeteria built to hold the entire student body and wing of four classrooms replacing the portables that used to hold fourth and fifth graders. With the new classrooms, Gubser can now accommodate 564 students, up from 467 previously.

“Our life will be very much less crazy,” Carter said with a smile.

Gubser is the first Salem-Keizer school to complete construction as part of a $620 million package voters approved last spring. Four others will be under construction during the school year.

Parents, students and Gubser staff got a chance to see the $5.5 million additions at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday evening. After speeches from school board members, Superintendent Christy Perry and Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark, four Gubser students took green pairs of scissors to a ribbon at the side of the new cafeteria.

Gubser students tour the new classrooms at their school during an open house on Aug. 29, 2019 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The new cafeteria was built by enclosing a covered outdoor play area, and traces of its past are still visible: a “No Skateboarding” sign was left on the west wall.

Principal Tom Charboneau, who’s new to Gubser this year, said the new areas will cut down on transition time between activities, giving teachers more time to teach.

“They’re thrilled,” he said.

Fifth grade student Jacob Garcia said both the classrooms and cafeteria are big improvements. He’ll be in one of the new classrooms, moving from a portable. His favorite feature? The large windows in class.

One of four new classrooms built at Gubser during the 2019 remodel. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Lunch will also be better.

“It was pretty chaotic and loud,” he said.

Now, the entire student body can eat together, giving him a chance to say hi to his younger sister, fourth-grader Kaili. She rolled her eyes at the prospect.

As the school gets more attention for being the first to finish construction, Kaili said she wanted people to know it’s pronounced Gub-ser, not Goob-ser.

And she’s enthusiastic about the new school.

“I’ve been excited to go back all summer,” she said.

Jacob and Kaili Garcia give a video tour of the improvements at Gubser Elementary School. (Courtesy/Salem-Keizer School District)

Correction: This article originally misspelled Kaili Garcia's first name.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: rachel@salemreporter.com or 503-575-1241.