Helping Schools Re-Open Safely with Portable Sinks & Water Refill Stations
As September 2020 approached, the Garden Grove Unified School District (GGUSD) was under pressure to begin on-site classes. While they didn’t have much time to prepare, they knew hand washing and hydration would be critical factors in reopening.
Many of GGUSD’s classrooms were already equipped with sinks, but the portable classrooms were not. However, classrooms were not the only places they were looking to install hand washing stations.
Assistant Director of Facilities Kevin Heerschap said, “We needed the sinks placed in areas that would allow students and staff to maintain the physical distancing requirements and provide more space for supervision.”
Their plan was to place hand washing stations throughout the schools so students and staff could get to a sink to wash their hands properly without waiting in long lines, reducing traffic in the restrooms and helping get everyone to class on time.
Looking to reduce as many potential points of contact as possible, GGUSD was also seeking an alternative for the hundreds of drinking fountains installed throughout their campuses.
How GGUSD Solved Their Hand Washing & Water Fountain Dilemma
GGUSD is the 14th-largest school district in California, comprised of 66 active school sites and a total of 70 facilities. They immediately contacted Brennon St. Clair, vice president of sales at ELMCO® Stewart, to facilitate a fast solution.
St. Clair showed them Acorn Engineering’s line of Portable Wash-Ware® hand washing stations, as well as Murdock Manufacturing’s touchless water bottle filling stations. Sometimes the best ways to keep kids safe from infection are the simplest: hand washing with soap and water and staying hydrated.
“We decided to go with the tank-type hand washing stations because they were completely portable. They are not tied into any of our infrastructure at all,” said Heerschap.
What sealed the deal for GGUSD was their ongoing relationship with St. Clair and Acorn Engineering’s short turnaround time.
“Our initial plan was to open the schools up in four different tiers. So, the ability to ship those stations and get them in our possession quickly was a big factor in choosing the Acorn hand washing sinks,” added Jean-Carlos Parra, facilities supervisor at GGUSD.
A few middle schools were in the first tier that opened for a little over a month. If you work at a school, we don’t need to tell you how rough pre-teens can be on, well, anything. Parra said that the stainless steel hand washing stations stood up well during that time.
Note: Keep reading for assembly and placement tips from GGUSD.
Murdock Manufacturing Water Refill Stations
GGUSD wanted to reduce as many points of contact as possible. They identified drinking fountains as one such area of opportunity—but you can’t just cut off the students’ water supply, so the District ordered 440 sensor-operated water bottle filling stations, which were retrofitted onto their drinking fountains.
Because they use the same supply line as the water fountain bubblers, connecting the bottle filler was quick and easy.
The bubblers are currently inaccessible to students but not disconnected entirely. When restrictions are no longer necessary, they will once again have the option of using the drinking fountain or the water refill station.
In no time at all, just over 1,000 portable sinks and 400+ water refill stations were making the short trip from the Acorn and Murdock manufacturing floors to Orange County. The units were shipped to a large staging area where GGUSD crews would set them up, and then the assembled units would be sent to the different school sites.
GGUSD Assembly & Placement Tips
As you can imagine, when you are assembling and positioning over 1,000 hand washing stations, you learn a thing or two. Parra and Heerschap were kind enough to share some of their insights with us to pass along to other customers.
1. All Hands on Deck
Because schools were out for so long, various District departments had some extra time. It was a perfect opportunity to get all hands on deck for the project. While assembly of the hand washing stations is not at all difficult, the sheer number of units made for an enormous job.
The maintenance and transportation departments were happy to lend a hand, as the portable sinks’ assembly requires no plumbing expertise.
2. A Systematic Process
With over 1,000 units to put together, the team developed a reliable, systematic process through trial and error that ultimately sped up the assembly.
Their solution, Parra said, was to set up two different stations. One was reminiscent of an assembly line, where each volunteer had one specific task—delivering parts or peeling off the protective sheeting, for example—while another person or persons would complete the assembly.
The other area satisfied those who preferred seeing the project through to completion. From unboxing to final assembly, these people could fly solo.
“We got to where we could put one sink together in 30 minutes, but the first 10 minutes was peeling off that protective covering,” said Parra. “That required a certain skill.”
A skill that probably involves healthy fingernails and a bit of dexterity and patience.
“Other than that, it was simple. We got going, and we really got rocking and rolling on it. That first day we got six or seven finished, and then we were soon up to 11 or 12 a day,” said Parra. “But we really made progress when we had 15 or so people working on them.”
Pro Tip: Parra said that the size of one’s hands appeared to make a difference. He noticed that some of the bigger individuals needed assistance to get to the tighter spots, whereas the smaller guys could more easily reach all the little nooks and crannies necessary to do it all at once.
3. Keeping Students Safe & Moving
There was a brief period where 25 schools were open before another COVID lockdown was mandated. It was enough time to put the sinks to use and adopt some best practices. Because the sinks are completely portable, the water is supplied by individual on-board tanks: one for fresh water and one for wastewater.
“We ended up ordering some of the extra containers—both the fresh water and the wastewater—so we could speed up change-outs. If you have an extra set or two of containers at each school site, you can always have one at the ready,” said Heerschap.
This was especially helpful when it came to the fresh water tanks. GGUSD found the portable sinks got the most usage before and after recess, as well as right before lunch. By purchasing extra tanks, the custodian could switch them out more quickly when the water ran low and keep the line moving.
Pro Tip: GGUSD purchased the units with on-board tanks because they provide maximum flexibility for each site. They can be placed wherever the school thinks most appropriate, whether at the back of campus or on the playground itself for greater supervision.
4. Casters vs. Feet
The hand washing stations come with either feet or casters. GGUSD said they opted for casters to increase portability.
“If the staff decide that it would work better here versus there, they can just move it,” said Heerschap.
Pro Tip: This also makes it easy to roll the units into a restroom at night to clean and refill them. Then, in the morning, they’re just rolled back out where they need to be.
5. Unexpected Benefits During Shutdown
Heerschap told us that when they first got their hands on the portable sinks, they were trying to figure out the best placement. Inside or outside? Where would they be needed most?
While the schools were shut down for in-person classes, athletics were still taking place, and teams continued to work out. Those teams turned out to be an unintentional pilot program. Heerschap and Parra said it wasn’t unusual to see the stations rolled way out into the fields or onto the tennis courts during conditioning practice.
While they haven’t spoken directly to the coaches, it’s clear the stations were appreciated, as indicated by the trash cans filled with paper towels each day.
The Future of GGUSD Hand Washing Stations
No one knows what a post-pandemic future looks like, but GGUSD has been thinking about how to get the most out of its investment. One idea is to modify the sinks by removing the tanks and doing some simple plumbing to permanently connect them in classrooms without existing hand washing capabilities.
By then, they may also find that their sports teams don’t want to part with their roll-up water source.
Special Note: Our stainless steel products have an industrialized, modern appeal. We use 80 percent recycled stainless steel, which can be reclaimed after use and recycled again.
Eco Portable Wash-Ware®
This stainless steel portable sink features foot pedal operation, casters for easy movement, and a number of options. The back of the unit is exposed for easy access to the on-board tanks.
The deluxe model is available with foot pump or sensor operation and also includes casters. Two on-board tanks are easily accessed through the front cabinet.