As plans to return students to schools full-time continue, a longstanding push to equip each building with water bottle filling stations has been renewed.
Debate about the filling stations — which generally replace traditional water fountains with more efficient equipment and filtered water — dates to at least 2018. 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.
But now, schools with filling stations were at an advantage in reopening amid COVID-19 because MCPS did not allow water fountains to be used. This has bolstered students and activists as they renew their calls for action.
During a school board meeting on Tuesday, Richard Montgomery High School freshman Advika Agarwal urged MCPS to install at least two filling stations at each school by 2024.
“We can be more environmentally conscious and provide students with safer water through the installation of more of these stations,” said Ami Mundra, a fellow freshman at Richard Montgomery, in recorded testimony presented to the school board.
According to estimates from 2019, the last time the board seriously considered installing filling stations, it would cost about $1.2 million to put two in each school that doesn’t already have any purchased by its parent-teacher association or installed as part of recent construction projects. At that time, about 55 of the district’s 208 schools had filling stations. Updated figures were not available on Friday.
In an interview this week, school board Rebecca Smondrowski said she is “absolutely prepared to offer another resolution or budget request,” but hopes the district will pursue the stations expeditiously without those measures.
During Tuesday’s school board meeting, Associate Superintendent of Operations Essie McGuire said MCPS is committed to installing the stations when old fountains need to be replaced or when schools undergo a building project.
“It can’t just be done on the building schedule,” Smondrowski said. “It needs to be done based on making sure every school has equity in filling stations as soon as possible. That can be a priority.”
Proponents say the stations have higher-quality water.
They also argue that the stations would quickly pay for themselves, reducing the need for the district to buy single-use plastic water bottles. That, too, would reduce the district’s impact on the environment and encourage students to use reusable bottles.
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.
“I urge you to consider how much good these water bottle filling stations will do for us,” Mundra said. “They will reduce plastic waste and increase the quality of drinking water in our schools, and this is why it’s so important to install more of these stations.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org