DARIEN — Giggles rang through the room as four school board members tried to squeeze into jam-packed chairs at a long table.

After being pressured into considering benches as an alternative cafeteria expansion plan for the high school, superintendent Dan Brenner put the proposal to the test. Brenner asked board members at the school board meeting on Feb. 28 to squish into seats to give residents a taste of what high schoolers eating in a cafeteria with benches would have to endure for their dining experience. And the results were comical.

“Not comfy,” one member said when they returned to their regular seat.

“I’d suggest that’s a long cry from best practices,” Brenner said.

“And I’m not feeding you by the way,” he joked as the members left the cramped table.

At a Feb. 14 board meeting, RTM member Jay Hardison suggested the board might save money on the $1.6 million cafeteria expansion plan by replacing the current chairs and tables with long tables and benches.

“It’s disappointing we’ve gotten to this point with the cafeteria in the budget because I feel like with more effort, time and resources, you guys could’ve done this,” Hardison told the board. “It took us a total of 30 minutes to put this together.”

But Brenner showed plans to the board and audience members to demonstrate just why the benches wouldn’t work. On top of the benches creating problems for egress routes and wheelchair accessibility, they would also require the demolition of the tiers in the cafeteria. This, combined with the costs to fix the current acoustics problem in the cafeteria, would end up costing the district $1 million for the project, just several hundred thousand short of the current proposal.

Brenner’s in-house demonstration also drove the point home, as board members crammed around one of the tables in the meeting room. The superintendent also presented a letter from the fire chief which explained exactly how much room each student would have to eat in the bench scenario: 18 square inches.

“Asking people to sit in an 18-inch space and eat a meal probably isn't’ a reality,” the letter read. “There is no room to move your upper body to try and eat and there is no personal space.”

Brenner argued that while a bench plan, which the board considered, may be cheaper, it would not be sustainable and would be less effective in the long run. Despite the board facing budget constraints from the threat of state aid cuts, Brenner said the Board of Finance supported a more costly expansion project in the hopes it would serve the high school more in the long run.

“It is a well thought out plan,” Brenner said. “It is a plan where we considered this when we went through it. It’s a plan that I’m telling you that the administration at table and the high school fully support and when we go to the Board of Finance, we’ll say the same.”

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata