Schools do their part to conserve

Reminders to save water abound after official order

Dry fields, drinking fountains

Carroll County

August 30, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

The potted black-eyed Susans were donated by a local nursery for back-to-school night. But in these water-pinching times, Mount Airy Elementary Principal Thomasina Piercy can't bring herself to water them - even with bottled H20.

The plants are way beyond wilting and have lost their petals. The stems have turned crunchy and the leaves are brittle, prompting Piercy to hang a sign on the black bucket.

"Mount Airy Elementary Gardening Club is conserving water!" it reads. "What are YOU doing to save water?"

From posting signs that encourage pupils to take quick sips at the drinking fountain to checking every faucet and wayward water pipe for possible leaks, Carroll schools have responded to Superintendent Charles I. Ecker's call to cut water use.

Ecker issued systemwide restrictions and sent schools a list of conservation suggestions after Winfield Elementary twice ran out of water this week and Sandymount Elementary's well began kicking up mud and gravel. The water problems were so worrisome - Winfield's toilets stopped flushing and faucets slowed to a trickle Monday and Tuesday afternoons - that both schools brought in paper products for the cafeteria, gave students sanitary wipes for hand washing and replaced drinking fountains with the plastic orange beverage coolers normally found on athletic fields.

School officials also began planning for possible well failures at those and other schools and discussed the last-resort option of closing a school without water and having students from two schools share one building in half-day shifts.

Neither Winfield nor Sandymount elementaries had any problems yesterday - in part because of a new well conditionally approved Wednesday afternoon for Winfield - but school officials aren't taking chances.

"As a system, we know we have schools on wells that are having difficulties and we know the towns and municipalities are having difficulties with their water supplies," said Raymond Prokop, facilities director of Carroll schools. "We want to go the extra yard ... and recognize that [the drought] is not just a problem when we hit that critical point at any one school."

Ecker directed schools to stop outside use of water, including watering of athletic fields and cleaning of sidewalks, loading docks and vehicles. He ordered all 39 county schools to begin using paper products and plastic utensils by Tuesday in the cafeteria to eliminate dishwashing. And he asked each principal to develop by Sept. 16 a plan to reduce water use by an additional 10 percent.

"The school system is a big user of water - one of the biggest users in the county - and we have to do our part," Ecker said yesterday. "If we don't conserve water, we may have more well problems than we have now, and if there's no water to flush the toilets, we'll have to close school."

Carroll schools have taken action.

At Mechanicsville Elementary in Gamber, faculty members posted signs in bathrooms encouraging children to lather their hands before turning on sink water and cleaning crews have mostly traded their mops for vacuum cleaners.

Principal Catherine Hood of Oklahoma Road Middle School in Eldersburg told her teachers that she would offer an award for the teacher who brought the dirtiest, least-washed car to work. (She was joking.)

Principal George Phillips of South Carroll High School - down the road from Winfield Elementary - ticks off a long list of things his school has done or is planning.

It's setting the automatic turn-off valves on bathroom sinks to the shortest possible setting and replacing toilet valves so commodes don't run as long after flushing.

Science, agriculture, and family and consumer science teachers are brainstorming for ways to minimize the use of water in labs. A project to repaint the canopy in front of the school was canceled because work crews first would have had to powerwash it.

The school turned off its state-of-the-art water-conserving sprinkler system two weeks ago on the last field being watered, despite Phillips' feeling that that particular water restriction is unfair.

"That's the one thing I don't understand about the water ban," he said. "I don't understand why they're still allowing people to water their ornamental gardens when we are not allowed to water athletic fields. We do that for safety reasons."

Anna Varakin, principal at Mechanicsville, feels guilty that her school's flower beds continue to burst with colorful blossoms despite her ban on outdoor watering.

"When I come in in the morning, I worry that people are going to say, `Anna, are you watering your plants at night?'" she said, laughing. "And we aren't."

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