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Revamped plumbing installed: Water summit to focus on schools
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GAINESVILLE — From leak detectors to kitchen-sink foot pedals, Hall County schools is doing what it can to cut back on water usage.

For starters, "we are obeying all (water restrictions)," said Lloyd Smee, maintenance director. "We do not wash vehicles; we don’t irrigate any of our fields."

Beyond that, the district is responding quickly to leaks and installing low-flow toilets and shower heads, among other efforts.

"Generally, (we’re) just making sure that we’re using the least amount of water that we possibly can," Smee said.

Gainesville city schools is showing the same kind of vigilance, said Superintendent Steven Ballowe.

"We have installed the (low-flow) commodes in our schools ... as part of our new (construction) and during reconstruction projects," Ballowe said.

Both systems also are working on making sure the conservation message reaches students and their families by videotaping public service announcements.

And they are meeting from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce in a "water summit."

Students, educators and government officials will discuss the drought and develop a "mission statement" for students concerning conservation in school, according to the agenda.

"We have really supported and been involved with educating our students and school family on water conservation," Ballowe said.

One of the more eye-catching conservation efforts of late has been the installation of "waterless urinals" in boys’ bathrooms at Jones Elementary School, which is in the Chicopee Village community south of Gainesville.

School officials vouch for them, saying they are odorless devices that will pay for themselves in three years.

"We are also examining the possibility of having the cost reimbursed by the federal government, as we have been declared a disaster area," Superintendent Will Schofield said.

Jones principal Hank Ramey said the devices have been problem-free and "our students surprisingly have not said a whole lot about (them)."

Smee said he has talked with Jerry Huguley, construction manager for the county schools, about including the waterless urinals in the planned middle/high school complex being built off Spout Springs Road in South Hall.

The complex is set to open in the fall of 2009.

The school system also has installed foot pedals in school kitchens to reduce the amount of time that water flows unattended and basically narrow water usage to the task at hand.

Smee said he believes the foot pedals will pay for themselves in two to three years.

Also, maintenance officials watch for usage and cost spikes in water bills.

"You go out to the school (after hours) ... when we know everything is turned off, then you walk the building to make sure everything is turned off," Smee said of the ensuing investigation.

"Then (we) go and check the meter, and if that leak detector is going, we know we’ve got a leak."

Close patrols of water usage have paid off.

Usage has dropped from 184.4 gallons per month per student and faculty/staff member in 1999 to 128.4 gallons, said Larry West of the maintenance department.

"We believe our effort has contributed to this savings despite the rapid growth in the district," West said.

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