Instead, students returning to school on Wednesday will continue drinking bottled water while PPS begins the process of replacing non-classroom water fixtures to deal with the problem of high lead levels in its water. The replacements will be installed in six waves of 15 schools at a time.
“The hope is — and what all the indications are — is that the fixture replacement alone will take care of the lead problem,” said Dave Northfield, PPS’ director of media relations.
The first school to have its fixtures replaced on Wednesday will be Astor School. The replacement will affect “high-traffic areas” at schools such as hallways, kitchens and bathrooms.
Classroom sinks and water fountains will remain wrapped in plastic and off limits. The district will again provide bottled water.
Once the fixtures are replaced, they’ll be tested again for lead. If high levels are still found, plumbers will return for possible pipe replacement.
Work at each collection of campuses will take up to six weeks at a time. Northfield says a number of factors, including which schools have younger students who are more at risk from high lead levels, were used to decide which campuses get fixed first.
On May 26, 2016, PPS announced the discovery of dangerously high lead levels in two of its schools: Creston and Rose City Park. The district shut off drinking water at all of its campuses as a precaution.
More schools later found similarly dangerous levels of lead.
Northfield says contractors will have to wait for students to go home and the buildings are clear before beginning the work of taking out fixtures.
As to why the work didn’t begin before the start of the school year, Northfield said work couldn’t begin until the district had money to make the repairs. Portland voters approved a $790 million bond in May, including $28 million for water upgrades. After the bond passed, the district began the process of evaluating schools and finding contractors.
“Unfortunately that took a couple of months,” Northfield said. “The hope was the work would have begun sooner, but that was one of the things that was a factor in having the bond vote take place in May as opposed to November.”
Northfield said high demand for contractors and plumbers in the Portland area also made it difficult for the district to start the work.
The first wave of schools to have water fixtures replaced are Lewis, Woodstock, Chapman, Skyline, West Sylvan, Atkinson, Richmond, Rose City Park, Sacajawea, Beverly Clearly Fernwood, Astor, Applegate, Chief Joseph and Hayhurst.