New bathrooms and improved sanitation may alleviate student concerns post Covid

Unusable. Unsanitary. Unwelcoming.

Those three words were often used by Groves High School students to describe the school bathrooms.

When junior Jim Allen walked into the Groves bathroom one morning, he hoped that since it was the beginning of the school day the bathrooms would be clean and functional. Unfortunately for him, that was not the case. With sparse daylight trickling through the windows and only one light working, the trip was already off to a rough start. He tried toilet after toilet to find a working one; he had to do the same with the sinks. After finally finding a working toilet and faucet, he then struggled with the broken soap dispenser. Finally, he was left to rub his soaking hands across his pants when he was greeted by no paper towels.

“It made me feel extremely frustrated with the bathrooms. This one was basically unusable. Such a perfect start to my school day,” Allen said.“Most of the bathrooms are rather disgusting, or just not up to the standards of what this school upholds. I walked into a bathroom last year and was greeted with an unpleasant smell, missing mirrors and there was no toilet paper. I then went to use the sink and the faucets didn’t work and there was no soap or paper towels."

Photo by Lauren Eshelby.

Junior Jim Allen stands in front of where the mirrors are supposed to be, displaying the lack of mirrors within the Groves bathrooms. A high target for complaints from students was the lack of certain amenities within the bathrooms, including lack of mirrors in the boys bathrooms. Mirrors are seen as a necessity for bathrooms by many people, often as a place people check to make sure everything looks good before continuing on with their day. Having no mirrors becomes an inconvenience to students. “It makes me feel frustrated to repeatedly walk into bathrooms at Groves, assuming there’s going to be full amenities, and being greeted by things such as no mirrors,” Allen said.

Allen is not the only student who has complained about the state of the bathrooms for years. Junior Laurent Sainte Marie described why he thought the bathrooms were disgusting.

“I cannot overemphasize how gross they are. I walk in and I am greeted by putrid smells, and it’s abhorrent. I cannot deal with the smell,” Sainte Marie said.

Such concerns are why Groves eliminated the book closets to create and expand new bathrooms this year. This fall, when Groves received residual bond money from the state and divided among the district, the administration determined what the school needed on a high priority list and low priority list based on student voice. Principal Embekka Roberson and other staff met with the Student Advisory Committee to hear first hand from students what areas of the school needs the most attention. Updating and expanding the bathrooms ranked as the top priority for the school. The school started by opening the bathrooms in the athletic hallway to students during the day since they were previously only accessible for extracurricular activities.

These bathroom updates may help keep the sanitation required, especially hand washing and more frequent disinfecting if the school opens again this fall. Assistant principal Darin Wilcox shared the process behind creating new bathrooms.

“The old thinking was, ‘We need to make sure those bathrooms are clean for when we have an athletic event at night so we won’t use them during the day.’ So we challenged students by agreeing to give the opening of the athletic hall bathrooms a shot and see if it works. For the most part, students have been respecting the bathrooms,” Wilcox said.

Since the school closed in accordance with the governor's orders, the district has looked into keeping these bathrooms open and increasing custodial maintenance while emphasizing students' role in keeping both themselves and the bathrooms germ free.

Before the closure, with the opening of the athletic bathrooms, students such as Sainte Marie, quickly labeled them as their favorite bathroom.

“I walk in and it’s insane. I see a whole row of urinals and a whole row of bathrooms. None of the other bathrooms have this much space and this much accessibility. I walk in and take a sniff, and I smell nothing. Generally it’s such a clean bathroom, I don’t know whether it’s people’s fear of them being closed back up or what, but no one just leaves trash around,” Sainte Marie said.

Photo by Lauren Eshelby.

Most students say their favorite bathrooms at Groves are, “the airport bathrooms", located in the athletic hallway, given their label due to their increased size and better quality compared to the other bathrooms. Junior Laurent Sainte Marie didn’t realize they were open to students until later on in the school year, but quickly made them his favorite. “I absolutely love them; they’re so much bigger than the normal bathrooms, making them more accessible. As well as being bigger, the facilities within it are so much nicer,” Sainte Marie said.

At the beginning of February, the renovation on the first bathroom in the B hallway finished, and they were officially opened up to students. With expansion being one of the biggest priorities, old book closets were blown out in order to reconfigure the bathrooms and create a more spacious and accessible environment. The bathrooms were additionally given a makeover with new tiling, plumbing, and facilities. Sainte Marie has been pleased with the results,

“I walked in and thought ‘Woah, this is amazing!’ The design of the sinks look great, overall it looks fantastic. You can tell all the time they put in making those bathrooms paid off,” Sainte Marie said.

Students weren’t the only ones pleased with the updates of the bathrooms.

“I love the new bathrooms. The new ones are brighter, bigger, and they’re new so they’re cleaner. I’ve been here twenty-one years and this is the first student bathroom renovation, the old ones were just getting dated,” Wilcox said.

Photo by Lauren Eshelby.

Early February the renovated bathrooms were opened up to the students. With the main goal of creating a larger space, the bathrooms were expanded and reconfigured to become more accessible. Along with expansion came new tiling, plumbing, and facilities. Administrators, such as vice principal Darin Wilcox, expressed their support of the new bathrooms, “I love the new bathrooms. I’m a big Groves guy, and a big Groves green guy, so I’m happy with the color scheme in the new bathroom. It’s green, big, and bright.”

Among the positive feedback from the bathrooms, some students continue to feel dissatisfied. Junior Bryan Tran shared Allen’s frustration with the soap dispensers and lack of sanitation in the bathrooms, only this time in the new ones.

“The soap dispensers don’t work; they’re constantly breaking or running out of soap. They then go days without being fixed. For example, I used the new bathroom when it was brand new, and the dispenser was already broken. I had to mess around with the dispenser to get soap to come out,” Tran said.

Broken soap dispensers aren’t the only issues students have found in the new bathrooms, Sainte Marie believes the smell in the new bathroom is worse than the old.

“One day as I was walking into the new bathrooms I bumped into someone walking out and they immediately warned me of a bad smell. I cautiously walked in and immediately left. I couldn’t take the extent of the smell. As much as I love the design of the new bathrooms, it’s issues such as the smell that ruin them,” Sainte Marie said.

While the smell and broken dispensers are still issues in the new bathrooms, the replacement of stall doors has been a huge relief to many students, such as junior Jeanne Lafond, who had become frustrated about continuously finding issues with broken facilities in the bathrooms that would go days without being addressed.

“One day I walked into a bathroom and two of the three stall doors didn’t close, making only one stall available. The bathroom is small enough to begin with, let alone when two of the limited stalls are out of order and there’s a huge line of girls. Eventually I had to leave and couldn’t go to the bathroom because I was going to be late to class,” Lafond said.

Something that new bathroom facilities do not deter is the issue of the issue of vaping in the bathrooms, another targeted complaint by students.

“A lot of people tend to use our bathrooms as meeting places to skip class and socialize with friends and vape, and I don’t think that gives off a good environment,” Sainte Marie said.

Allen agrees with Sainte Marie that vaping in the bathrooms creates an uninviting environment for those who don’t want to inhale the fumes.

“I was using one of the old B hallway bathrooms and walked into a population of kids that were using vape devices. It was very unpleasant for me so I turned around and left,” Allen said.

A hope with the new bathrooms and additional administration control was that the amount of teens vaping would reduce, providing students who don’t want to be subjected to that with a more comfortable experience. Wilcox knows firsthand the issue of students vaping in the bathroom and has worked to diminish the number of students that do.

“I think that the number of teens who vape in the bathroom has been dramatically reduced. I believe that our students have just caught wind of, ‘If that’s the lifestyle choice I’m going to make, I probably should just not do that at school,” Wilcox said.

Just as Wilcox urges students to avoid vaping in the bathrooms, Lafond hopes students take responsibility for cleaning up after themselves and that this continues next fall if the school opens.

“Because I stay after school most days and I see the janitors cleaning them everyday, I feel I have a more positive view. I know the students are who make the bathroom messy and the janitors are just doing their best to clean up after us. So I see them doing their job and I know it’s not the easiest, students don’t always leave the bathrooms clean or the easiest to clean. So I feel like that helps me look at it more positively because I see the behind the scenes,” Lafond said.

Photo by Lauren Eshelby.

Students and administration agree that the issue of cleanliness in the bathrooms stem from the actions of students. In the old bathrooms, students tended to leave more of a mess behind when they go, making the job of the janitorial staff more difficult. Students shoved paper towels in the sink and left trash throughout, not helping with the already unsanitary bathrooms. Assistant Principal Darin Wilcox believes that updating and enhancing the cleaning process of the bathrooms will motivate more students to keep them clean if we return in the fall. “Research shows, if the building is not clean students won’t respect it. So the better the janitorial staff can keep it clean, the more people or students will also try to keep it clean,” Wilcox said.

During construction on the new bathrooms, the administration worked behind the scenes with the janitors to improve the system for cleaning the new and existing bathrooms. Wilcox agrees with Lafond’s opinion about the work the janitors put into cleaning the bathroom.

“A big concern was cleanliness, so we sat down and addressed that with our custodial staff to discuss their view compared to the students, and I think it’s a lot better now. It’s not great, it’s just the volume. In defense of our custodial staff, it’s going to be harder to maintain bathrooms when you have a whole lot of people using them,” Wilcox said.

While Groves has 16 bathrooms, most are small; consisting of three stalls in the girls’ bathrooms and two stalls and two urinals in the boys’, making it a tighter and unconventional space.

The school plans to continue updating and expanding bathrooms. With a possible bond coming through, the administration aims to next expand the bathrooms between the cafeteria and the pool hall, creating more updated and accessible student bathrooms in the south, north, and west sides of the school.

Students are excited for the future of the bathrooms at Groves, hoping that this renovation is just the beginning.

“The new bathrooms are an improvement, but they are only a small fraction of the bathrooms at Groves,” Allen said, “There are still problems students are finding within them, all the issues don't just magically disappear after renovation. There’s still a ways to go to get them to be perfect, but in the meantime they’re nicer and usable.”

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