School in need of repairs while soap thieves sink to new low

A broken water fountain at WCHS gets taken out of service after being covered in scotch tape and a plastic water bottle.

Photo by Isar Uslu

A broken water fountain at WCHS gets taken out of service after being covered in scotch tape and a plastic water bottle.

By Isar Uslu, Staff Writer

Broken water fountains. Broken sinks. Stolen soap dispensers. HVAC that is scorching hot in some rooms and freezing cold in others. WCHS students face infrastructure issues everyday. But despite the frustration of students, teachers and administrators alike, addressing many of these problems can be more difficult than one might think. 

“[WCHS] needs to work on some of the facilities and other equipment in the hallways that are not working,” WCHS sophomore Collins Nnamdi said. “They don’t seem committed to replacing anything that’s been damaged, especially in the bathrooms. It’s been weeks, and there are still no hand wipes in the bathrooms.”

Nnamdi noticed the situation has not been particularly improving during his time at WCHS. However, he thinks that other than certain areas, the school runs fairly well as is.

“Except for the faulty equipment in the hallways and the bathrooms, they’re doing pretty good,” Nnamdi said. “The day to day operation of the school isn’t really affected by this, but it would be nice if they could be replaced.”

From stolen soap dispensers to a lack of paper towels, bathrooms are a frequent concern for many WCHS students. One student, WCHS junior Dan Harris, says that he actively tries to avoid using the bathrooms at WCHS.

“I have had to dehydrate myself so that I don’t have to use the bathrooms as much,” Harris said. “There is toilet paper and urine on the floors everywhere. One time, I saw Lakeshore headphones smashed into pieces and laid on the floor.”

Alongside the bathrooms, air conditioning is another common complaint of WCHS students. After coming back from online learning, parts of the building have suffered from HVAC issues that have left some rooms in sweltering heat and others in unbearable cold.

“It’s like a super sized version of Hot Pockets,” Harris said. “Every bite is a different temperature, and here every room is a different temperature. One time, the air conditioner was broken for a week, and we were all sweating. Instead of actually fixing the air conditioning, they brought in portable fans.”

WCHS Principal John Taylor attests to the issues the building faces, but says that repairing the facilities at the school come with their own challenges, like hiring qualified professionals to get the work done.

“It’s very hard to hire people now, they can get jobs in other places, so they’re kind of struggling a little bit,” Taylor said. “What I think central office maintenance is really trying to work on is professionalizing the teams that they have. For example, in HVAC, so it’s not just a maintenance guy who kinda sort of knows air conditioning. They’re hiring certified experts in HVAC to work on our systems now to make sure they’re upgraded and kept nice.”

On top of hiring challenges, WCHS also faces the issue that they are technically not facing as bad of issues as other schools. Other schools in the county are afforded more attention because of their more critical state, leaving WCHS in the wait list for renovations.

“We are no longer a new school, our last modernization and complete refurbishment, where they added this whole new wing to the building, was in 2000,” Taylor said. “So we’re kind of slated to get a renovation [in] the 2036-2042 range. It’s gonna be a while. There’s like 210 schools, they can only do so many at a time, and they’re still building new schools in other parts of the county, [and] going back and fixing up the old ones. I know we have our problems, but Odessa Shane didn’t have centralized air, it just got replaced 2 years ago. Cabin John, which got replaced in 2012, did not have centralized air for a long time, it just had window units until they replaced it.”

This means that schools like WCHS will often rely on preventative maintenance, which preserves what works until a renovation can occur. According to WCHS’s “Business and Operations Information” document, which outlines the procedures to spend funds on the school, any emergency requests are handled by the Building Services Manager, while less urgent concerns require a Maintenance Request. Taylor says that these requested work orders can take months to be addressed.

“There is a whole system for putting in work orders, there are maintenance depots that come out and work with schools to do corrections and repairs,” Taylor said. “This year, our goal has been to work on [when] you’ll put in a work order, like [a] door lock doesn’t work, as an example, and it will kind of just sit there for a long time, and he’ll come and look at it and say ‘Oh, I need a part,’ and he’ll disappear for a while.”

Taylor has stated that measures are being taken to help with preventative maintenance. For example, WCHS uses software to keep up to date on what needs to be replaced, and staff have weekly meetings to keep up on the condition of school infrastructure. He also says that WCHS makes sure to constantly remind maintenance depots of requests.

“We’ve changed a lot of our systems so that it doesn’t become lingering,” Taylor said. “A work order has been in for 372 days on a broken water fountain, when it’s been in for 14 days we’re calling them and [asking] ‘when are you coming?'”

 However, until a major renovation can occur, WCHS must work with what it has. To this degree, respecting the infrastructure shared by all who use it is most critical to keeping it running for as long as possible.  

“[Things like] making sure we’re not breaking the water fountain, or dumping something in there that clogs it up,” Taylor said. “Those are little things that we all can do, that will actually help the system, help it last longer.”