WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — The aging bathrooms inside a century-old school building are separated from the cafeteria by a partition that doesn't stretch all the way to the floor, and the restrooms also suffer from exposed and leaking pipes, as well as toilets that go un-flushed because they are too difficult for young children to operate.
The boys and girls restrooms, on the first floor of P.S. 132 at 185 Wadsworth Ave., have for years been a point of contention for parents who believe the decrepit commodes pose health and safety risks to students.
Concerned parents at the building, which contains the Dos Puentes and Juan Pablo Duarte schools, also described the bathrooms as having low-hanging, exposed pipes that students climb on when unsupervised, as well as stall doors that frequently get stuck, forcing children to crawl on the dirty floor to exit them.
“Kids were coming home with urine on their shirts,” said Megan Cossey, whose son attends Dos Puentes, which recently hosted the Queen of Spain and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “The bathrooms have literally never been renovated. The building is over 100 years old, and it looks it."
However, parents are now hopeful that a recent multimillion-dollar funding allocation by the city's School Construction Authority which manages capital improvements to the city's public school buildings, will fix the situation.
The SCA recently agreed to set aside $2.8 million from its five-year capital plan to renovate the main bathrooms.
While many see this as a positive step, parents are still wary because they have been promised improvements in the past, but the project never materialized.
“We’ve been told two years in a row by the SCA that the plans are complete and are going up for a bid,” said Arilda Crisostomo, whose daughter attends Dos Puentes. “Two years in a row, we’ve heard that and nothing has happened.”
The two main bathrooms on the first floor, which include about 12 toilets each, serve 670 students attending the two schools, according to DOE figures. Parents noted there is another multi-stall bathroom with about four toilets and two single bathrooms located elsewhere in the five-story building, but that the first-floor restrooms serve the bulk of students.
In these bathrooms, the toilets are often filled with waste because they operate using foot-pedal flushers that are too difficult for many of the youngest children to use, while the urinals are too large and tower over the youngest students, parents said.
Additionally, they said the pipes in the bathroom frequently get backed up and leak onto the floor — a situation that is especially concerning in the girls bathroom, which is separated from the cafeteria by a partition that ends inches from the floor.
“You can imagine the stench,” Crisostomo said. “And it’s right next to the kitchen where the food is being warmed.”
Dos Puentes parent Cossey said she wanted to work with the parents association to help improve the school, but never expected to spend so much time and energy on bathrooms.
“At a parents association, there’s certain kinds of things you can expect to deal with,” she said. “This is not one of them. I want to be raising money for after-school programs and to get a playground, not for this.”
Parents from Dos Puentes began fighting for the improvements two years ago, as the school prepared to move into the building. However, Crisostomo noted that parents and administrators from Juan Pablo Duarte, which has been in the building since 1905, have been dealing with the issue for even longer.
“My husband was raised in Washington Heights and attended that elementary school,” Crisostomo said. “He told me the bathrooms were a concern when he was attending the school. He’s 45 years old.”
Neither the parents association nor the principal of Juan Pablo Duarte responded to a request for comment. The principal at Dos Puentes did not immediately return a request for comment.
Parents haven't been the only ones who have tried to get the bathrooms improved.
Lucas Acosta, a spokesman for Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, said the politician has been trying to get funding for the bathrooms since 2009, but the city never agreed to put in the money.
After hearing from parents of both schools in the building, Rodriguez and state Sen. Adriano Espaillat sat down late last month with a DOE representative, the principals of Dos Puentes and Juan Pablo Duarte, and parents from both schools. After the meeting, the SCA agreed for the first time to allocate funds for the bathroom renovation, according to Rodriguez's office.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said the project will move forward.
“We are in the process of bidding out the contract to upgrade the bathrooms at P.S. 132, and anticipate the work will be done by December 2015,” he said.
Parents are cautiously optimistic.
“No one is denying the problem and there seems to be goodwill,” said Vicky Nunez, a Dos Puentes parent. “But it seems like everyone says, 'Yes, there is a problem, yes we’re going to fix it.' But then nothing happens.”