Palm Beach County public schools decided to go green several years ago to help protect the environment and save on energy bills. But the switch to waterless urinals in numerous boys’ bathrooms has become a costly mess on some campuses.
Copper pipes behind the walls in at least two bathrooms at Spanish River High School in Boca Raton corroded, leading to urine’s flowing across floors and students holding their noses.
“It was seeping through the hallway into the classroom next door,” Caleb Rader, 15, a freshman, said of the urine leaks before winter break. “Pretty disgusting.”
Administrators say they have cleaned up, started repairs, and ordered a return to flush urinals, this time with low water flow.
They insist students and employees are safe. But parents are worried, and five of the bathrooms with the waterless urinals are still open while repairs are pending.
“We’re really concerned because we don’t think it’s a sanitary place for our children to be,” said Mara Shapiro, president of the school’s PTSA, whose son is a junior. “The hallways reek.”
Permanently fixing the problem could cost a total of $500,000 at Spanish River and three other high schools with similar bathroom designs and urinals: Palm Beach Lakes in West Palm Beach, Santaluces near Lantana, and Wellington.
School district officials say they are negotiating with the manufacturer of the urinals, Falcon Waterfree Technologies of Los Angeles, to reimburse them for much of the repair and renovation expenses.
“We want to hold them accountable,” said Joseph Sanches, district chief of facilities management.
Matt Korcinsky, Falcon’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, said the company takes some of the blame and wants to keep doing business with the district.
“We’re working with them on this unfortunate incident,” he said. “I’m 100 percent confident everyone will be satisfied.”
About seven years ago, district officials began retiring hundreds of traditional flush urinals. They said they could save about $100 a year in water costs for each urinal, and switched to the no-water variety.
Along with helping the environment, administrators also liked the idea of stopping restroom vandals: waterless urinals make it impossible for mischievous students to clog up drains and cause flooding.
With a white ceramic form, the waterless units resemble a typical urinal. Falcon’s product contains a cartridge providing “odor-free operation and easy maintenance,” according to the firm’s website.