Katie Schatz and Elspeth Ridout appeared daunted. They were among the first students to arrive for their first lunch on the inaugural day of Colonial Forge High School, and they didn't know where to sit.

Before them was a giant cafeteria, with enough seats for them and a couple of hundred of their classmates.

Somewhere down there, beyond the rows of tables, was the food line they would eventually join.

After looking around, they settled into a table at the back. "This is much bigger than North Stafford [High School]," said an impressed Ridout, 16, referring to her previous school. "At North Stafford everything is crowded."

"It's so empty," added a somewhat bewildered Schatz, 16.

Despite the difficult first-day decisions, the juniors agreed that Colonial Forge was far better than North Stafford, or any other school they had seen.

"We didn't want [another year] at North Stafford," Ridout said.

On its opening day, Colonial Forge, Stafford County's fourth high school, elicited a range of reactions from students and teachers.

What some described as too big, others termed refreshingly airy. Many marveled at the sparkle of the new facilities, while others were simply trying to find their way to class. One student complained that the air conditioning was turned on too high, while another lamented being separated from his friends at Stafford High School.

"It's okay I guess," said Tim Jenkins, 16, "but all my friends are back there."

Teachers and administrators, meanwhile, were impressed with the layout of Colonial Forge and the teaching opportunities it would provide.

"It's gorgeous; the stage is wonderful," said drama teacher Fred Franklin, who joined Colonial Forge after 35 years at North Stafford and other area schools.

"I was going to retire," but the opportunity at Colonial Forge was too good to pass up, Franklin added.

"The theater looks like a real theater," Franklin said. "When the students see a professional stage, they will understand it."

Like its theater, Colonial Forge is designed to be as advanced as possible. The school focuses on technology and boasts state-of-the-art computer study laboratories, technology teaching rooms for students and teachers, and interactive media. In the near future, administrators hope there will be a computer on every desk.

Colonial Forge, which draws students from every part of the county, is designed to accommodate 2,000 and will have about 875 in its first year. Administrators chose not to have a senior class this year so students wouldn't have to switch schools in their final year.

Construction is ongoing and will continue after school hours for a few months, officials said, adding that no classes will be affected.

After the first day, officials were simply trying to work out the kinks. The cafeteria tables didn't arrive on time, so administrators put out temporary ones. Directional guides in hallways also haven't arrived, so maps were printed for each student. And many students were allowed to arrive late to class because they were lost or stuck in a long lunch line.

"We're adapting," said Principal Lisa Martin. "There's a little confusion. . . . But I think it's going wonderfully.

"It's going to be a year of celebrating firsts."