Detroit schools are getting new water filtration systems in the next year, a long-term solution to one piece of the district’s staggering school facilities crisis.
The district will spend $3 million, partly subsidized by donors, to install the new systems in its roughly 100 schools, according to a plan approved Tuesday by the school board.
The move answers the question of how the district will handle revelations that drinking water in most of its schools is contaminated with lead and copper. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had ordered the drinking fountains closed following an analysis this summer, and the district has been spending $80,000 a month to place water coolers in school hallways.
The new filtration systems — to be installed by July 31, 2019 — are intended as a more permanent solution. They will look like water fountains with an additional spigot to fill water bottles, and will be outfitted with filters capable of eliminating contaminants. Vitti pointed out that similar systems are already in place in schools in Ann Arbor and Royal Oak.
Problems with the district’s water have drawn public anger, and some students stayed home on count day in protest. But Iris Taylor, president of the school board, said in a statement that the district has responded well to a bad situation.
“We are incredibly proud of the aggressive planning and strategic efforts the district put forth to arrive at today’s solution,” she said. “We applaud Dr. Vitti on his leadership, swift action and ability to problem-solve.”
Still, the district has a long way to go before it declares victory in an ongoing infrastructure crisis. Many classrooms lack air conditioning or windows that open, and a recent report estimated that it would cost $500 million to bring the district’s buildings up to modern standards.
The total cost of the new filtration system will be defrayed by at least $2.4 million in donations from a long list of philanthropic donors, Vitti said. United Way is still taking donations on its website through the end of the month. The remainder of the bill will come from the district’s surplus, not from the pot of money used to run schools on a daily basis, Vitti said.
The funds will go towards 818 filtration systems that will be installed in schools across the district, or roughly one for every 100 students.
Vitti brushed off suggestions from the audience at the meeting that the district would be better off replacing existing pipes.
“It is just not practical or cost-effective to rip out even old piping in schools,” he said. “You can imagine what that would do to disrupt the day-to-day teaching environment. We’d have to move hundreds of students from one school to another.”
Read the full plan here: