Montgomery County Public Schools plans to install at least two water bottle filling stations at every school that does not have them by the fall, the culmination of a yearslong, student-led push for the machines.
During a school board committee meeting on Monday, MCPS Director of Facilities Management Seth Adams said the district has formally requested bids for construction companies to complete the project, now expected to cost about $1.5 million. The school board will consider proposals during a meeting in July.
The goal, if approved, would be for the filling stations to be installed by the fall.
“We have an excellent opportunity to address concerns around equity … and do it in a way that really does allow us to focus on our recovery effort,” Adams said.
MCPS plans to use funds from its capital or operating budgets to fund the project, then be “reimbursed” with federal grants. Specifically, MCPS plans to apply for funds through the elementary and secondary school emergency relief fund, created to help schools across the country address issues in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Adams said MCPS is confident the water bottle filling station installation project is eligible because the equipment will help students and staff members avoid putting their mouths close to water spouts and risk transmitting disease.
Ninety-three of the district’s 208 schools do not have any water bottle filling stations, and 43 only have one, according to Adams.
School district officials said student advocacy over the past three years is what finally pushed the initiative forward. Since at least 2018, students have advocated for the filling stations, highlighting the need for filtered water. They have also argued that the stations are more environmentally friendly because they reduce the need for single-use plastic water bottles.
In an opinion piece published Saturday in Bethesda Beat, Poolesville High School freshman Brianna Akuamoah-Boateng wrote that filling stations will help students stay healthy as the district promotes sustainable practices and saves money.
In 2018, MCPS spent approximately $415,000 on single-use water bottles given out during lunch. The school district purchased more than 3 million plastic water bottles, according to MCPS data.
On Monday, Adams reiterated that the water from traditional water fountains in the schools is safe, but the filling stations are important to promote equity and environmental consciousness.
Past proposals to install at least one station in each school have failed, either with not enough support from school board members or by not receiving funding from the county.
In recent years, the filling stations have been installed as part of other construction projects at schools, or if they were purchased by parent-teacher associations or other community organizations.
According to the request for proposals for the project, the deadline for submissions is June 30. The document says each school will have two units installed “in close proximity to the existing cafeteria and gymnasium,” but the exact locations will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org