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Waste Watch: Small toilets mean big money

Updated: Wednesday, July 10 2013, 03:17 PM EDT

Rochester, N.Y. – The Rochester City School District is spending thousands of dollars to add child-sized toilets to schools built for older students.

“My first reaction was, how wasteful,” said School Board Member Willa Powell.

The toilet expenditure is a consequence of the district’s decision to move schools, close schools, open new schools and reconfigure grade levels.

For example, Freddie Thomas and Madison were built as middle schools in the mid 1990s. Since then, the district has phased out middle schools. It now prefers a kindergarten through 8th grade model. That means classrooms, cafeterias, gyms, athletic courts and bathrooms have to be retrofitted for the appropriate age groups. 

“When you have to use a bathroom for a very small person it’s a long way down. It’s not your classic toilet,” said Powell.

At Freddie Thomas that has meant a $767,000 renovation. The district spent $192,000 on plumbing and ventilation for newbathrooms and kitchen areas, $38,000 on bathroom fixtures, $33,000 on bathroom fire alarms and $110,000 on classroom renovations that included adding bathroom space. The upgrades also had a $220,000 playground. 

The Montessori program moved there from the Franklin campus. When Montessori opened at Franklin more than 10 years ago, that school underwent a similar retrofit to accommodate young children. The school board approved Montessori’s move last year over Powell’s objections.

“I’m actually almost speechless because the redundancy of this expense,” said Powell.

The district’s Facilities Modernization Program team sees things differently. The team is in charge of steering the district’s $1 billion modernization program. Part of that work includes assessing the current space inventory and the district’s future needs.

Program Director Tom Roger and Architect Steve Rebholz said the retrofits save taxpayers money down the line because the schools will be more viable long term. Some older, rundown schools will be closed in the future. Enrollment trends also played a role, as there is more excess secondary space than elementary space. Finally, since the district doesn’t have middle schools anymore, it was important to reuse the relatively new Madison and Freddie Thomas buildings. 

“It’s a combination of putting it in the proper scale for the younger kids as well as providing spaces where they can conduct their educational programs,” said Roger.

Some schools undergoing renovations would have needed more bathrooms anyway to meet modern codes.

“You’re going to try to use the building more efficiently, in other words, put more kids in the building. Then you really to add some bathroom capacity,” said Roger.

The old Montessori space at Franklin will be used by other elementary students.

Everyone agrees the district cannot continue to change school grade configurations if it wants to avoid these kinds of expenditures in the future.

“They were necessary changes,” said Powell. “But avoidable when you think of what other options were available, other locations might have been available.”

Waste Watch: Small toilets mean big money

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