How To Get New Water Fountains for Your Public School

So how did I get two brand new state-of-the-art water filtration systems installed at my underfunded Philadelphia public school?

Well, the answer is much more simple than you think. And it’s not about “I” – it’s about “We.” I’m no hero and have not done anything particularly groundbreaking. But for those who have asked and would like to enact similar progress at their schools, here’s what we did:

When my son first started kindergarten one of the things I noticed was the antiquated, dilapidated water fountains. Did kids drink from these? Were they even safe? 

old fountain 2 old fountain

I talked to both kindergarteners and older kids and the answer was “nope.” They carried store bought bottles of water, drank chocolate milk (often the only thing offered in the cafeteria), or went thirsty.

This was not something I could let slide.

A recent article in Philadelphia Inquirer linked the rate of childhood kidney stones to poor water access at our pubic schools. One brand new study even proved that when potable water is offered through attractive dispenser, kids actually drop weight!

I brought it up to a few members of my school’s Home and School Association. These parents work tirelessly to raise needed funds to cover everything from playground improvements to an actual librarian salary for the years when it was not covered by the district. And while I admire the work they do and want to contribute in any way I can, I know my time is best spent doing the things where I can be most efficient – advocacy, research, and writing compelling (and often irate) letters.

They mentioned that I was not the first parent to bring up the dearth in potable water sources, nor the possibility of purchasing the type of fancy filtered water stations we’ve seen everywhere from preschools to gyms. I asked if I could present them with some pricing to consider and they said sure.

STEP ONE: What do they cost? 

Knowing that the quality of water coming from pipes in a 110-year-old school, I knew I wanted filtered water stations. I found them online for $954 a piece. So I contacted the company to ask about discounts for public schools and they put me in touch with the right salesperson who lowered the price to $884. I knew that ideally we wanted to purchase two – one for near the lower grade classrooms and one for the gym/cafeteria.

STEP TWO: How do we pay for them?

I knew there were a LOT of options here. I think it would have been relatively simple to have done a fundraiser where we asked each parent to consider the costs of bottled water and contribute $5-$10 toward the cost of the fountains. After all, we have at least 500 families at the school and the fountains would cost less than $1800 total.

But in the end we didn’t need to do any of that.

Our school has a “Green Team” led by a dedicated science teacher who makes use of the dozens of green grants available to schools (among others not on this list include Recycle Bank Green Schools). And he already had some money in his account set aside for a rainy day. So he was happy to “make it rain” for one of the fountains.

The HSA had enough in the bank to cover the cost of the second. They asked for approval from the principal and she said “Sure.”

Done deal.

STEP THREE: Are the pipes even safe?

Hopefully you can skip this one. But since my school is older than time, I wanted to make sure we wouldn’t be installing water fountains with lead pipes, causing more harm than good.

I found an article from 15 years ago stating that in the wake of tests which revealed high lead levels in the drinking water at several city schools, the School District signed an agreement with the Health Department to test all sources of drinking water in city schools and take corrective action wherever dangerous lead levels were found. You might think that would settle it – but I have no level of reasonable trust for these things.

So I sent an email to the district asking for a record of McCall’s water quality. I got my response within 30 days.

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 8.02.00 PM

4) STEP 4: Who’s gonna install these things?

This was my biggest concern. It’s easy enough to get the fountains, but who is going to install them? Would there be months of district red tape to get a union-approved plumber? Could the school’s general maintenance team handle it, or would they need special permission?

Turns out that in our case you do need to put in a work order with the school district. Our principal did that the moment the fountains were ordered, and in a show of surprising efficiency, they were installed less than 24 hours after they arrived.

IMG_7079

Will it be this easy with your school? I’m not sure. But I do know that clean, accessible drinking water is something EVERYBODY can agree on.

Have you been able to upgrade the water situation at your school or public space? I’d love to know!



  • Dwayne Wharton

    Kudos for leading the charge and making this happen. A great model for other school communities to follow. Thanks!!!!

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  • Yasmin

    HI, your response from the dept of public health is dated from 2003. When did all of this occur?

  • Yasmin

    Nevermind, I see that this is the correspondence between PSD and Health Dept that you were referring to.

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