Richmond Public Schools committed to improving every bathroom in the district’s 44 schools by the start of the school year. That didn’t happen.
Superintendent Jason Kamras announced in mid-July an initiative — dubbed a “bathroom blitz” — to beautify the school division’s decrepit bathrooms. For the past month and a half, community members and school officials have worked to tackle the issue.
They were able to improve about two-thirds of the district’s more than 600 bathrooms and will continue making improvements into the school year.
“We still have a lot more work to do, but we made a lot of headway,” Kamras said.
The work has included plumbing and drywall repairs, taking off broken soap dispensers and broken stall doors, and other repairs.
Kamras said the biggest challenge in completing the blitz was the number of bathrooms and the skilled work that it required.
The city School Board approved up to $350,000 on the initiative as part of a facilities maintenance budget that exceeds what the district initially thought it had.
At Boushall Middle School on the first day of classes, Kamras said the work on the remaining bathrooms could take two to three months.
The superintendent, who took over in February, helped unveil new bathrooms in the South Side school on the first day with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“There’s been a lot of improvement,” said Wilber Arias, an eighth-grader at Boushall. “Everything is clean so it’s like you don’t want to leave the bathroom anymore.”
Thomas Jefferson High School parent Dina Weinstein called the blitz a “worthy and honorable endeavor.”
“It was most definitely needed,” she said. “The bathrooms at Thomas Jefferson High School were in abysmal condition.”
Weinstein, who said she and another parent took an inventory of the needs in every bathroom of the West Grace Street school, was frustrated at times with the communication of the blitz and the lack of uniformity of improvements across the district.
“We’re lucky there were [community members and parents] who could drop everything and spend hours of their summer painting in hot, airless bathrooms,” she said.
The initiative was inspired by Kamras’ school tours in his first few months on the job, during which students often complained to him about the conditions in the bathrooms and told him that it’s an area they would like to see improved.
So in his weekly email on July 13, he announced an effort to do just that, calling on the city’s education community to help rehabilitate school bathrooms as part of a three-part school beautification initiative he called “RPS Shines.”
Community members helped the division replace the following before the start of the school year, said Chief Operating Officer Darin Simmons:
- 200 paper towel dispensers
- 150 toilet paper dispensers
- 150 soap dispensers
- 260 faucets
- 170 sinks
- 20 stall doors
- 200 stall locks
- Three toilets
- 100 ceiling tiles
More than 40 bathrooms were freshly painted.
“We’re very happy with the progress we’ve made so far,” Kamras said. “We’ll keep at it as long as it takes to make sure we get every last one done.”