By TIM ROWDEN
Florissant, MO – When McCluer North High School teachers Amy Hancock and Adam Bender approached St. Louis County Councilman Mike O’Mara about getting help installing a new water fountain and water cooler/bottle refill station at the cash-strapped high school in the Ferguson-Florissant School District, he knew just what to do.
O’Mara, a 1978 graduate of McCluer North and a member of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, called his union.
“They had raised some money privately because it wasn't in the budget for the school to put these fountains in to do something for the kids,” O’Mara said. “They had money to cover the fountains, but they didn’t have the money to cover the labor and materials. I thought with it being my old alma mater – and the biggest thing that this was for the students – that this was something we could help out with.”
Local 562 stepped up, with apprentice instructors Marty McClimens and Mark Reese and apprentice Brad Battelle joining O’Mara working over the school’s spring break to install the fountain and water cooler on the third floor – something the students had told teachers they wanted in a survey. Plans are in the works to install additional fountains over the summer.
“It was a good ‘hands-on’ learning experience,” McClimens said.
“It took a couple of long days to put it in,” O’Mara said, noting that the old fountains in the school were installed in the 1972 and provided barely a trickle for students between classes.
“My sister was in the first graduating class in 1974,” O’Mara said. “You look at how old those fountains were. They’re lucky they spit out any water at all.
“It was actually a fun project,” O’Mara added. “Projects like that are rewarding because its for the students and it’s motivational for them to be able to say ‘We’ve got something new.’ Hopefully, we’ll get the other two in this summer and they’ll be good to go next fall.”
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“We couldn’t have gotten this done were it not for the union,” said Bender, a social studies teacher who heads the teachers’ organization MN Strong, which works with students and raises funds to make improvements around the building.
“I think it’s a great message to send to our students,” he said. “I try to tell our students there are some great people out there that help out. There are good people out in the world and the Plumbers and Pipefitters are part of that.
“It’s great for me to be able to tell my kids, ‘These guys are able and willing to donate their time and even some of the cost of the materials to get this done for you.’”
A HUGE HIT
“Kids on every floor now want to go up to the third floor to go to the good water fountain to get their water,” Bender said.
“It's a huge message to them to say we’ve got something new,” he said “I have students that I’ve never had in class that will come up to me in the hall and say ‘Thank you for the water fountain.’”