Bad bathrooms bring school budget proposal

Students plea for improvement

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The students’ squeaky-clean appearance clashed with the ugly pictures on the screen.

Stained toilets, exposed pipes, and broken ventilator covers were among a dozen pictures set to ominous-sounding music that seven middle school students showed the Williston School Board last week.

Both Board Chairwoman Marty Sundby and District Principal Walter Nardelli said they have never seen students present on the budget in their combined decades of school board experience.

The students explained the extent of problems in Williston Central School’s 38-year-old upstairs bathrooms in hopes the school board will take action in their budget planning process under way this month and next. About 200 students, faculty and staff use the bathrooms, the only ones on the second floor.

Problems are numerous, the students said: Faucets leak; sinks have been retrofitted to try to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements but do not meet code; some stall doors do not lock.

“I know some people try to avoid going to the bathroom at school,” student Rachel Distler said after the presentation.

Rachel’s mother, Lynn Distler, chimed in: “I’ve heard other parents say they don’t want to send their kids to Full House or Phoenix (House) because of the bathrooms.”

The Great Bathroom Renovation project, as the students called it in their presentation, stemmed from a persuasive essay assignment by language arts teacher Tracey D’Amato last year. Essay topics included allowing cell phones in school, starting school later and allowances. The “hot topic,” D’Amato said, was the bathrooms.

“The bathroom papers generated a lot of discussion, so much so, that we spent an entire class brainstorming what was wrong and what could be done about them,” D’Amato wrote in an e-mail. “That’s when the students wondered if they could share their papers with the school board.”

D’Amato handed the papers off to Nardelli who in turn shared them with the School Board last spring. Members of the board subsequently toured the bathrooms. Students became hopeful the bathrooms might be fixed as a result, D’Amato said.

“When all the students came back in the fall, they were frustrated that nothing had happened to the bathrooms over the summer,” D’Amato said. “They kept asking ‘what else can we do?’”

Students formed a committee and met Wednesdays after school to come up with a presentation and a formal budget proposal, according to D’Amato.

During the presentation the foreboding music shifted to “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang as students presented their solutions. Based on their own research, under the guidance of D’Amato and art teacher and trained architect M.C. Baker, the students showed the School Board their vision’s new fixtures.

“Don’t worry, we don’t expect a chandelier,” student Joe Castano said, smiling, as a picture of a fancy bathroom flashed on the screen.

A complete renovation could cost up to $145,000, Baker told the board. Baker should know: An architect by training, she has worked with schools on renovation projects before. Renovating in phases, she said, is possible but ultimately could be more expensive.

The fate of the bathroom renovation proposal will be decided in January when the school board prioritizes the list of possible budget additions. Last year, 21 potential budget additions totaling over $400,000 were considered by teachers, administrators and the School Board; but only a few made it into the final budget.