Proposed Detroit schools water system fix: $2M
Detroit's school superintendent said a $2 million water station system would address water quality issues across the district.
At a board of education meeting on Tuesday, Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the most practical, long-term and safest solution for water quality problems inside the schools is water hydration stations in every building. The systems are used in districts Flint, Royal Oak and Birmingham and in Baltimore, Vitti said.
"It is the only way to ensure the water is pure," Vitti said. "This purifies the water at the point of exit. You can concentrate water and testing. It cools the water, it's environmental friendly, kids can fill up a water bottle."
Just days before the first day of school on Sept. 4, Vitti turned off drinking water inside all 106 school buildings after 16 schools showed high levels of copper and/or lead.
The cost to have stations in every school — one for every 100 students — is $2 million and would include stations in faculty rooms and gymnasiums, Vitti said.
On Tuesday, board member LaMar Lemmons asked Vitti if the state, which controlled the district during emergency management for nearly a decade, would pay for the system.
Vitti said he was told no. Vitti said district surplus dollars could be used to pay for the system, which would need approval by the board of education.
Vitti said he plans to get information to the board to consider next month. The system could be installed in the next school year, he said.
The district is spending $200,000 on bottled water and water coolers for the next several months, Vitti said.
He said cause of the water contamination likely is the ages of the school buildings and older plumbing systems.
Lower usage of water due to smaller enrollment sizes leads to copper and lead buildup, Vitti said. The schools were built for use by thousands of students but the district's ranks have shrunk.
"The reality is our schools are vastly different: some are new, some are old. Some have outdated systems, some have outdated sinks and plumbing," Vitti said.
He said he has consulted with the Governor's Office, the department's of environmental health, and licensing and regulations as well as Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, whose work exposed the Flint lead water crisis, and water expert Elin Betanzo.
"They have provided lessons on Flint. They gave the recommendation for me to think about piping in general and a long-term solution," Vitti said.
Activist Robert Davis implored Vitti and the school board to investigate the group of contractors that constructed the newer school buildings and to contact members of the Detroit delegation of state lawmakers for help.
"There is no explanation for those newer schools," Davis said. "I think they are going to find there was waste."
Detroit activist Helen Moore said immediate action was needed to address the contaminated water supply.
"This is serious business," Moore. "Day 1 needs to start tomorrow. Someone needs to make sure the water is safe."
Michigan has no rules that require school districts to test for lead in their water supply, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
There are newer schools, built within the last decade, that also have water-quality issues, Vitti said, which could be blamed on inadequate piping or piping not done to code.
Vitti initiated water testing of the 106 school buildings in the spring. The testing evaluated all water sources, from sinks to drinking fountains.
The actual source of the contamination is unclear.
Concerns that the infrastructure could be to blame for the water issues come amid widespread building condition problems. In June, a district report said it would cost $500 million to repair its buildings.
The district has said it needs $29.86 million to repair or replace plumbing.
The district will hold several community meetings to provide information on the drinking water. The next meeting is 4:30-5:30 p.m. Tuesday at East English Village Preparatory Academy at 5020 Cadieux.