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Touchless bottle filling stations still being installed across district

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Apr 15, 2021

Out of 1,414 touchless bottle filling stations, 28 percent, or 402 have been installed at schools across the district since August.

Tuesday night the board approved the renewal of a refrigeration repair service, awarded to County Cooling & Heating, Inc, the district’s primary vendor, and Johnson Controls as its secondary vendor in a four to three vote. Board members Melisa Giovannelli, Betsy Vaughn and Gwyn Gittens opposed the motion.

In addition to the service providing repairs for refrigerated equipment such as ice machines, reach-in coolers, walk-in coolers/freezers and milk boxes, it will also use the ITN towards the installation of touchless bottle filling stations.

The renewal has an expenditure of $700,000, which breakdowns to $450,000 for maintenance day-to-day repairs and $250,000 for the installation of touchless bottle filling stations.

Vaughn voiced a great deal of concern over the district spending more than a million and a half dollars in purchasing the equipment in August.

“We currently have 402 and that is 28 percent. That is unacceptable to me for whatever reason so few in this year of COVID. I am really shocked it’s only that small percentage. We spent that much money and now another quarter of a million dollars on this,” she said.

It costs anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000 to install a station.

Maintenance Assistant Director Barbara Cedeno said the installation of the bottle filling stations has used in-house plumbers and contractors.

“The next few months are kind of critical. Not only are there summer projects, but the plumbing team has to shift concentration towards backflow testing and repairs, which is a requirement. Given this scholastic year is a shorter summer because of the pandemic, the additional bandwidth will help us complete these installations for the bottle filling stations,” she said.

There is a minimum of two touchless bottle filling stations at each school. As of April 9 there is still 72 percent of the stations to be installed, or 1,012.

Cedeno said there is a variability in regards to the number of stations per site.

“Some of the schools may have seven, some may have four. Some may have 69,” she said, adding that it all depends on the campus and how it is designed.

The concentration, now that each facility has at least two touchless stations, is targeting the schools that have the highest populations.

Giovannelli shared a great deal of concern over the installation being equitable across the district. She said there was no real plan put in place for everybody to receive an x amount before anyone sharing they wanted additional stations.

Chief Operations Officer Dr. Ken Savage said maintenance is absolutely trying to be very organized on how to distribute the systems. He said they are starting with larger schools with at least 10 stations in high traffic areas.

In the meantime, Savage said the schools have water fountains with cups and hand sanitizer for students.

At Bonita High School 68 stations have been delivered, 26 at Fort Myers High School and 11 at East Lee High School.

“That’s inequitable and that is my point,” she said after Savage answered how many were at the specific schools she requested. “I am trying to get the understanding of who has what and how much and why more. We have two and a half months of school period and no one will be drinking water for a while.”

Cedeno said some of the challenges that they have faced in installing these stations is additional electrical needs to be done, or plumbing, or such modifications as breaking concrete walls to install the stations.

“The other piece of this complex project is the installation piece with in-house employees,” she said, which is a small team. “There is a learning curve.”

Another challenge was in the delivery of the stations, as the district did not receive them immediately due to the high demand across the country.

The $250,000 that the board approved Tuesday night will provide a joint effort with in-house staffing and contractors.

“Our team is doing the best we can at this time. We are working hard to make this right. The good thing is the two or more stations have been installed in high traffic areas at particular sites. They do have those resources there available now,” Cedeno said.

Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins said getting contractors to do this work is extremely difficult. He said the district was proactive in going out and securing this equipment.

“We are relying on our staff, limited number of staff members and it takes time. I’m proud of our maintenance department and whole team. They make really good high quality decisions and have expertise in this area. It’s really easy to second guess a decision when (you are) not in the decision process,” he said. “They are working as hard as they can.”

Vaughn asked why they ordered an initial 1,400 stations if they still have 1,000 remaining in their warehouse.

Savage said at the beginning the district thought they would have a certain level of support in installing the systems, which was not the case.

Construction Director Scott Reichenbacher said the district made the right move in ordering them all at once because everyone was vying for the same material. He said with what they are seeing with inflation, it is good they have them in their storage container.