Water They Doing Here?
Every member of the AJA community is treasured and unique, and AJA’s new water bottle filling stations are no exception. These On-Wall ezH2O Bottle Filling Stations, manufactured by ELKAY aim at “helping students sip safely,” according to the company’s website. Additionally, the stations are meant to “minimize plastic bottle waste in the environment.”
Each station has a stainless steel frame, a motion-sensing monitor to automatically fill bottles, a metal tray covering its drain, and a reader that shows a “bottles saved” count, which shows how many plastic water bottles have been saved by using a refillable bottle station instead. AJA’s CFO Ms. Helen Haney added that the bottle filling stations have cooling and filtration systems, which ensure that the water provided is “of the highest quality.” Although it took effort to plan logistically, the project of installing the water fountains, supported by a mission, provides the AJA community with an easy way of drinking clean water while being environmentally conscious.
The idea for AJA’s new water fountains dates back to when students began returning for in-person instruction in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mrs. Erica Katz, PTSA President, spearheaded the water fountain project and explained that COVID inspired the initiative because the school disabled the water fountains in the early stages of the pandemic. This move, although safer from a sanitary standpoint, failed to address the need for access to water. Mrs. Katz recalled that some students had to heave two large water bottles around school daily. This need for water fountains led the PTSA to gift the school bottle-saving stations “that would benefit the entire school [and] our environment, and would keep us healthier, too.”
In order to bring their idea to reality, the PTSA took steps throughout the 2020-2021 school year to fund new water fountains for AJA. Mrs. Katz and the PTSA pride themselves on being “fiscally responsible” and saving part of their earnings each year, so they were able to “dip into” this supply to pay for the water fountains. During the quarantine period, PTSA spending remained minimal, so they saved even more that year. The PTSA dedicated all of the funds from their 2021 annual Mishloach Manot fundraiser towards the water fountain project as well.
Once the PTSA reached their goal for the project’s funds, they launched the installation process. This began in the spring and summer of 2021 with the school “getting pricing and trying to figure out when materials would be in,” according to Mrs. Katz. Ms. Haney explained that the school experienced a series of delays throughout this process. Starting with getting the water fountains themselves, the company experienced “supply chain issues” that slowed their delivery. Next, Ms. Haney recalled that AJA experienced “a real delay [in] them coming to give us a quote.” Even when these tasks were completed, AJA ran into stumbling blocks with the installation itself. Upon examining the proposed locations, the installation company discovered that plumbing and electrical fixtures behind some of the walls could not support the new water fountains. Therefore, they had to reevaluate the locations to find areas that were both well-used and suitable for a bottle filling station.
Once the plumbing and electrical delays were resolved, those involved with the water fountain project solidified the location of the ten bottle filling stations throughout the building so that “every division has access,” according to Ms. Haney. In the High School specifically, two are located in the 400s hallway and one is placed on the second floor by the restrooms. Although the High School is a newer addition to the AJA campus that already had functioning water fountains, Ms. Haney explained that the PTSA wants to ensure that the High School can “benefit from those bottle filling stations” as well. Therefore, the High School’s original water fountains were removed and donated in good condition.
Additionally, the PTSA decided to install a water fountain in the atrium outside the auditorium. However, this water fountain, tucked in a corner between the High School and front entrance, receives less use than the other ones. The numbers show this clearly with a significant difference between the atrium’s water fountain and the water fountains in the 400s hallway. The atrium’s water fountain went from 479 to 483 bottles saved over the course of a week, while a water fountain in the 400s hallway went from 1000 to 1065 bottles saved in the same week.
Even though the atrium’s water fountain may have relatively little use now, Ms. Haney explained that earlier in the year, the area was a hotspot. Between various ping-pong electives, play practices, and lunch periods, the PTSA decided that the space required a bottle station. Now, however, the ping-pong tables have retired, play practices have finished, and the ECD has ceased eating lunch in the atrium, so the use of the area’s water fountain has dropped significantly.
Amongst all the bottle filling stations in the high school area, the adjacent fountains in 400s hallway are the most heavily used. Because these stations are directly across the hall from each other, High School students have created various games as they monitor the “bottles saved” count on each meter. For instance, Senior Yered Wittenberg and Junior Sam Kutner put up flyers from AJA’s “management” asking students to “keep the count even” between the two fountains. Yered, who himself frequently utilizes the new water fountains, identified this as “another example of [AJA’s] goofy, funny, [and] silly, but sometimes serious student atmosphere.” He explained, “[the stations] are supposed to save water, but while we are at it, we are going to make something fun out of it.” A contingent of AJA students now try to keep the count even between these two stations or point out notable “bottle saved” counts on the monitors, such as 613.
Next to these 400s hallway water fountains, there were temporarily several patches of paint which the installation company did not touch-up, leaving the job for AJA’s own facilities staff. There was some delay because, as Ms. Haney explained, “during the day Monday through Friday, they’re so busy with everything that is [part of] their normal routine” that there is little opportunity for “bigger” jobs, such as repainting the wall by the water fountains. When school closed for Pesach break, however, the facilities staff had the opportunity to touch up the walls and complete the water fountain project.
Unlike in the 400s hallway, the water fountain upstairs has little usage, with an increase in only four bottles saved over the course of two school days. This may be because several students are unaware that this water fountain is operational. Its lack of an automatic sensor, a feature present in the downstairs water fountains, leads to this faulty assumption. In fact, Yered initially believed that the water fountain upstairs “doesn’t work,” and he could not “understand how there is a number of how many bottles saved here if it doesn’t dispense water.” Later, he discovered the manual button that dispenses water. Ms. Haney explained that the reason for this difference is that “the wall behind it would [only] support a certain unit” because of the plumbing behind the scenes. Therefore, a manual unit, which fit with the existing plumbing, was installed.
Overall, the water fountains have been an asset and convenience for students and teachers alike. Senior Margalit Lytton recalled, “when I had basketball, [I brought] in a separate water bottle because I did not like the school’s water, but now, I just refill my water bottle.” She also appreciated how “it’s easier to fill your water bottle” with designated bottle-filling stations, as opposed to struggling with the older fountains designed for drinking directly from their spouts.
In addition to the new fountain’s convenience, people feel more comfortable filling their water bottles from these stations from a sanitary standpoint. Science Teacher Dr. Bobby Portis thought bottle filling stations are a “hygienic” alternative to water fountains with a spout where “people used to have to put their mouth close to it.” Given “the day and age we are in… that just feels less safe,” he explained.
However, Dr. Portis found one personal downside to the bottle filling stations. He explained that he does not bring a water bottle to school, so he cannot utilize the water fountains to “help me up my water intake.” Nonetheless, by no means would he prefer the older model. Junior Ezra Feen disagreed and prefers the older model from which he could “just take a sip.”
Overall, Mrs. Katz hopes that the water fountains are well-used and that “they have been only something that people appreciate having in the school now.” The water fountain project, with its mission of providing a convenient, sanitary, and environmentally friendly method of drinking water, has been welcomed to the community with all of AJA’s goofiness and seriousness.