DPS raises $2.4M for hydration stations in one week

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti discusses plans Tuesday to install water stations across the district beginning next week.

Detroit — The city's public school district raised $2.4 million in private funds in just one week to cover the cost of hydration stations at 106 schools and bring building-based drinking water back to thousands of students.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti announced Tuesday that donors headed the call for help from the school district, which needs nearly $3 million to pay for and install 818 stations across the district after drinking water was turned off in schools in August in response to excessive lead and copper levels in 57 schools.

"The long-term permanent solution to ensuring our children have daily access to safe water and our faculty are hydration stations," Vitti said. "The community and corporations across Detroit have stepped up to mitigate the cost."

Early Tuesday, the Detroit Board of Education approved Vitti's request for $2.9 million in school funds to move the plan forward. 

Once the Financial Review Commission approves the expenditure on Thursday, which Vitti says he expects, work to install the stations will begin next week. Money from business and philanthropic donors will go to the Detroit Public Schools Foundation and be sent to the district to reimburse costs, Vitti said,

The United Way for Southeastern Michigan is spearheading the philanthropic campaign with a gift of $500,000. They are also working to raise additional funds from the community through a dedicated website at

Other donors include Quicken Loans Community Fund ($500,000), the Delta Dental Foundation ($300,000), DTE Energy Foundation ($300,000) General Motors ($200,000), Ford Motor Co. Fund ($200,000), FCA Foundation ($100,000) and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan/Blue Care Network ($100,000).

Vitti told the board his staff raised $2.4 million of the expected $2.9 million needed to cover the project.

"We've raised $2.4 million, and we have a $500,000 match opportunity through United Way. If we can raise $500,000 through the campaign, we can raise $3.4 million with a match," Vitti said.

Every school in the district will receive one water station for every 100 students enrolled. Additional stations will be installed in every school gym and in every faculty lounge and one extra station will be added to every school, Vitti said.

"We are the only large urban school district in the nation to move forward in implementing hydration stations not in a phased approach but universally in all of our schools," Vitti said.

New filters are required at the stations for every 3,000 gallons of water consumed. Vitti said principals and school engineers will be trained to monitor the systems and replace filters. The systems are equipped with a meter and warning system for replacement.

Installing is a two- to four-hour process per station, he said, and will be complete by the end of summer. That will cost about $1.4 million, he said.

Add in environmental remediation at cost of about $800,000, and the entire project is nearly $3 million, Vitti said.

Any shortage will come from the district's $90 million surplus, he said.

Darienne Driver, president and CEO of United Way of Southeastern Michigan, said she understands the urgency of this issue for the district.

"We hope we never have this day again," she said. "What we will be doing today and forward is making sure this doesn't happen again."

Driver said her goal is to get to $1 million in fundraising by Oct. 31.

"The harsh reality is the education is still a civil right," she said. "We have to talk about equity and access and we can't let these things fall by the wayside."

Students will each get their own reusable water bottle for the stations but can also drink water directly from the station, Vitti said.

Filters on kitchen faucets would come from another budget source, Vitti said. The district is only heating food now, not cooking, due to the water situation.

The Detroit News reviewed hundreds of pages of water reports for 57 buildings that tested for elevated levels of lead and/or copper in the water to provide a detailed look how excessive the metal levels were in the most elevated sources.

The water testing was initiated and self-reported by the school district. School officials still await the test results of 17 more buildings. That means more than half of the 106 schools inside Michigan's largest school district have tainted water. 

Vitti said the district will clean bottles for students, continue working with Detroit's health department for lead testing for families and will continue to test water long-term.

He also said all districts should test every source of water in schools despite the fact there are no legal mandates to do so in federal or state law.

"Universal testing should happen in all water sources, not samples and not some but every single source," Vitti said.

"We should expect water to be clean enough to drink. ...This is a national issue and should have a national solution."

Parent Fior Nevarez stood outside Munger Elementary School on Tuesday where her two children attend school and praised the district's solution.

"It's safer. I've been sending water to school every day. The kids never liked drinking the water before this happened," Nevarez said. "It's awesome they were able to raise the money to pay for it."