Judson Middle School student Gabby Mora and Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett shovel dirt at a groundbreaking for school construction. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Gabby Mora sometimes has trouble finding a spot to sit during lunch in the Judson Middle School cafeteria.

The rising 7th grader said she tries to work with friends to save seats before getting in the lunch line. But the cafeteria is so crowded that even with three lunch periods, it's not always possible.

"Other times we're not so lucky," she said.

Mora was one of the school's students on hand to usher in a $13 million renovation of the campus, due to finish in the fall of 2020.

McKay student and Salem-Keizer Student Equity Committee member Leanette Mabinton hands hard hats to Judson students. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Students, Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett, and community and district leaders spoke about the project before turning over dirt to symbolize the start of construction.

Orange cones were already visible on the single-story school's roof.

"This is really an exciting time for Salem," Bennett said. "The district is seeking to keep up with what is clearly going to be a striking population increase over the next 20 to 30 years. For this community to look ahead the way we have is something I think we can really be proud of."

Judson is the fourth Salem-Keizer school to undergo renovation starting this year as part of a $620 million construction package voters approved last spring.

North Salem and McNary high schools and Gubser Elementary School are also under construction.

READ: Groundbreaking at North kicks off $70 million campus renovation to add new classrooms & Keizer civic pride on display at McNary groundbreaking ceremony

Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett speaks at the Judson Middle School groundbreaking ceremony. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

A new wing on the back of the building will house three new classrooms, replacing current portables, and four science labs.

The labs will allow Judson to offer students a full year of science classes in all three grades, assistant principal Craig King said.

The school cafeteria will also be expanded so Judson students can have two lunch periods instead of three, King said.

Other changes include seismic improvements so the building can be re-occupied following an earthquake.

"We hope this school will be safer now," said student Raphael Lozada, a rising seventh grader.

Judson's office is moving to Crossler Middle School next week to allow for construction and will be open through June 27.

Lisa Harnisch, co-chair of Salem-Keizer's community bond oversight committee, shovels dirt with Judson students Kathy Morales, center, and Raphael Lozada. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Have a tip? Reporter Rachel Alexander: rachel@salemreporter.com or 503-575-1241.

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