Casteel, other CUSD schools get updated cafeterias - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Casteel, other CUSD schools get updated cafeterias

August 15th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Casteel, other CUSD schools get updated cafeterias

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

Moments before the lunch bell rings, the Casteel High School cafeteria is quiet. It’s the calm before the storm. After the bell rings, 700 hungry students will enter the cafeteria for food.

“Our goal is to get everyone their meals in seven minutes,” said Jenny Bracamonte, the director for food and nutrition for Chandler Unified School District. “We know they only have between 25 and 30 minutes to have lunch and they definitely don’t want to spend that time in line with us. They want to spend that time with their friends.”

CUSD spent the summer improving the Casteel cafeteria. It is also remodeling the ones at Basha and Perry high schools, though they are not finished yet. The goal is to make it easier and faster for students to get the food they want.

“We want this to be very much like the restaurant experience they know,” Bracamonte said.

The delays at Basha and Perry have been caused by the global supply chain issues.

When completed, the three schools will have gravity slides, which will allow students to grab a slice of pizza or a chicken sandwich and move on quickly. There’s also a taco/burrito bar that looks very similar to a Chipotle serving line.

“Obviously this is a fairly new school,” Bracamonte said. “We built this in 2015. So, it really didn’t need too much of an infrastructure change. But when we built Casteel, we built it for about 12- to-1500 students. We have over 3,000 here, so we needed to make sure that you were addressing speed of service.”

Another thing the district is doing as it remodels its cafeterias is to brand them. Casteel students are now eating at Rally Cafe. The walls are painted in school colors and encourage school spirit.

When the work is done, there will be Rally Cafes at four of the district’s six high schools, including Arizona College Prep, which opened last year and doesn’t need remodeling. There are plans to do Chandler High, but a timetable for that has not been set.

The district is in the process of remodeling the cafeteria at Hamilton High, but that will take longer. It won’t be ready until next school year. The primary challenge at Hamilton is that there’s not enough room for students to eat together.

“The cafeteria is over here and this whole hallway is just full of kids sitting by themselves on the ground,” said Kristopher Luo, a senior at Hamilton.

Hamilton has 4,000 students and there are four lunch breaks a day. That’s 1,000 students looking for a place to eat lunch at the same time. Only 600 fit in the current cafeteria. Bracamonte said when the renovations are complete, hopefully by the start of the next school year, they should be able to seat 900.

To create that space, they are expanding the cafeteria into the school’s atrium and some of the outdoor courtyard.

There is another major change for school lunches this year. The federal government ended the universal free lunch program it had started during the pandemic. Bracamonte said it had been a success, with the District serving about 7.1 million meals last school year.

This year returns to how lunches were handled before the pandemic. Families that qualify, can still get free meals. Other families that need some help can get reduced-price meals. And the families that can afford it pay full price.

Prices for lunch range from $3 to $3.75 a meal. Reduced price is 30 or 40 cents. To apply for either free or reduced lunches, visit

“We did see major, major growth in our program over those universal free years,” Bracamonte said. “We have seen some participation decline from last school year to the start of this school year, but we really hope to continue to serve 7.1 million meals this year.”