State of the Bathrooms Part II: Maintenance and Custodial Steps Up and Responds


We present our interview with the brains behind the changes.

After previously publishing the article, “Students’ Survey Response to Administration: Fix Our Bathroom Situation” school-wide awareness of the issue has skyrocketed, resulting in efforts of improvement through changes in procedure. The article gave voice to students’ issues with the state of the bathrooms and stressed a lack of toilet paper and soap, dysfunctional sinks, unlockable stall doors, and students’ habitual vaping/juuling. The intention was to prompt change to better our environment for the benefit of all, students and staff. Major changes have occurred since the article was published.

Following an interview I conducted with Mr. Lars Olenius, director of maintenance here at Brewster High School, I learned a number of things that everyone could benefit from knowing.
Not many students really consider the problems that occur behind-the-scene. For example, a significant issue making an impact on the state of the girls’ bathrooms is the fact there is no female custodian on staff. This means that the male custodians need to rely on the monitors to be made aware of problems in the girls’ restrooms. Even something as simple as replacing soap or toilet paper becomes a hassle because the male custodians need to wait until all females vacate the restroom long enough to shut it down for however long is needed to address the problem. Not having a female custodian on staff during the day is the reason why the female bathrooms are very often not restocked throughout the day. Mr. Olenius is working desperately towards fixing this issue.

One of the things that really made an impression on me was when Mr. Olenius said that he wasn’t a mind reader. He didn’t realize that so many of the students were dissatisfied with the state of the bathrooms. We determined that the most significant issue we face is a lack of communication between students and staff. If something is broken, if there isn’t any toilet paper or soap, if something isn’t the way it should be, he, or one of the custodians needs to be informed and they will fix it for us right away without a problem, as that’s their job. Mr. Olenius consistently expressed how approachable and open to conversation he and his staff are. But in order for the bathrooms to meet our standards, we have to tell them when something isn’t right. Lack of communication seems to be the underlying cause of the majority of the issues we face and the only way to fix this is not to be afraid to take a moment and talk. It’s hard for the custodians to stay in the loop sometimes, so that’s our job to help them.

A major source of complaint in my previous article was the persistent problem regarding the broken lock on one of the two stalls in the girls’ locker room. After Mr. Olenius read the article, he confessed, he had no idea that there was a problem with the stall. It’s important to consider all of the perspectives here. It must be taken into consideration that when the custodians are cleaning, they generally aren’t closing and locking the stall doors behind them. Unless the students have brought the issue to them directly, it’s something that they’d likely not notice. The custodians don’t want the students to be dissatisfied with the condition of the bathrooms, so here is another situation where a lack of communication is at the center of the problem, whether it’s between the students or his night crew, or a combination of both. When Mr. Olenius heard about the stall door fiasco, he immediately set out to repair it as soon as he could. According to him, many problems are quick repairs; the issue is making sure the custodians have knowledge of the problem.

Another concern reported in the last issue was the barely functioning sinks. Mr. Olenius was also unaware of the quality of the sinks. Every day when he comes into the school before everyone arrives, he goes around making sure everything looks good. In the morning, he says all of the sinks work perfectly. However, as the population of the building increases, more water is being used and the sinks are not functioning as well as they need to be. This is a more complex repair than some of the other problems mentioned. There is most likely the issue of something happening under the surface like the water pressure dropping or some other problem of that nature. Nothing should be stopping the sinks from working but unfortunately, something is amiss and the cause requires a closer, and more involved investigation in the future.

Additionally, Mr. Olenius and his staff have now put a checklist into effect. This is meant to keep track of which staff member went into which bathroom at what time during the day in order to keep things running efficiently. This is a new system which wasn’t in place in the past. Mr. Olenius can see the official checklist which lets him know what’s going on and what needs to be looked after. This helps to improve the communication he has with his almost entirely new night crew. His new night crew has been trained to keep him updated with their notes.
We need to be encouraged by the efforts Mr. Olenius has made to request that work be done over the summer to repair, update, and enhance some of the bathrooms. The older bathrooms with eroding tiles don’t appear clean, as the age-related damage overshadows the effort made to clean them.

While there is still room for improvement, Mr. Olenius and his crew have worked quickly to address some of the previous problems highlighted in the previous piece. They want to satisfy the students but the students have to do things: be open to speaking up when something is not functioning as it should and do their part to treat BHS property with appropriate respect. Hopefully in the future, students and staff can work together to keep our custodians in the loop to make our school a cleaner and healthier place for everyone involved.

Many great changes have come about since our last article, some of which include timely soap dispenser refills and fixed locks on the girls’ stalls. With better communication between students and staff, improvements are meeting everyone’s needs.