Plumbing Students Get Hands-On Lesson in Sanitation

Teams design, install hand-wash facility for school in India
Plumbing Students Get Hands-On Lesson in Sanitation
Teachers try out the new hand washing room.

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About 500 students at School #125 in Nashik, India, used to share three old water taps for hand washing. Today, they have 30 taps with modern plumbing, along with a better understanding of the importance of washing their hands, thanks to the international Community Plumbing Challenge and four teams from around the world, including a team of two college students and two plumbing apprentices from Wisconsin.

“We were introduced to the project in March (2015),” says Randy Lorge, instructor of plumbing apprenticeship at Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) in Appleton, Wisconsin, and one of four coaches for Team USA. “We were to redesign the entire hand wash facility. They basically had three faucets and a trough.”

Two of Lorge’s students were on the team. Peter Hollmaier calls the experience the “trip of a lifetime,” while Adam Koenigs says it was “incredible.”

Hollmaier says it was a great experience as a career opportunity, a great life experience.

“I’m very appreciative of everything I have after going over there and seeing how they live. I learned that water is not nearly as readily available as we perceive it to be in the U.S., especially here in the Midwest.”

The school serves a very poor area of Nashik, which has a population of 1.4 million. The hand-washing room, 23 feet long and just 9 feet wide, is located between the boys’ and girls’ restrooms that contain rudimentary facilities.

“The students, ages 5 to 13, have to exit the restrooms and then re-enter the hand-wash room to wash their hands, so it’s really inconvenient for the children,” Lorge says.

A common trough serves as a urinal in both the boys’ and girls’ restrooms, occasionally flushed with a bucket of water. The remodel uses greywater from the sinks to flush the trough. The new design also replaced two urinals in each bathroom with hand-washing stations.

Two 5,000-liter water storage tanks were added to the roof, doubling the water supply. The remodel also included new water piping for the bathrooms and hand-washing area, installation of new flush valves for the urinals and new water taps for the sink faucets. Ventilation of the restrooms was improved to eliminate odors.

While Team USA was crowned the overall winner of the competition, the project was a collaboration of designs that were put together by teams from India, Australia and the Basque Country region of Spain. Each team was required to present proposals that included AutoCAD drawings, material cost estimates, labor needs, specifications and an operations and maintenance manual – essentially a full-scale project preparation and presentation.

“It was neat working with the engineers who did the 3D model to see their side of things,” Hollmaier says. “They’d ask if they could change things to make it easier and we’d have to advise them if it would work out in the field.”

Once the desired design was agreed upon by the Indian Plumbing Counsel and the school, the teams had three-and-a-half days to redraw the design in AutoCAD, remove the old and install the new plumbing.

“On top of the physical project, we also had to put together lesson plans to teach the kids about the importance of washing their hands with games, skits and role-playing,” Lorge says.

Health messages and graphics were added to school walls. The final design and lesson plans for the project were captured digitally so they could be recreated and used for other schools throughout India.

Hollmaier and Koenigs are both third-year plumbing apprentices in their final semester of school at FVTC. Upon graduation, they will wait a year before taking the exam to become journeyman plumbers.

Hollmaier says the experience taught him something about the people of India and reaffirmed the importance of his career choice.

“They don’t have all the luxuries we have, but I don’t think I met anyone over there who was sad or upset with what they had or didn’t have. And to see how plumbing can affect people and their everyday lives gives me the motivation to continue on and be the best plumber I can be.”

Hollmaier decided on plumbing as a career after earning a double major in business and economics at another college.

“I decided I wanted to get into the trades, and had been working for a plumber during my school breaks and really enjoyed it. So I decided to stick with it,” he says.

Koenigs, who is following his father into the plumbing business, agrees that the project opened his eyes to the importance of his career choice.

“It makes you realize how much we take for granted,” he says. “Plumbing there is very limited and it raised concerns about the safety of the people. You can really see the importance of plumbing.”

The trip left an impression on Lorge as well.

“It was an extremely dirty environment by our standards; I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says. “Crowded, crazy and chaotic. Cattle roaming the streets. With all the garbage lying around, there were constant fires going on to get rid of it. After a few days, you started getting a sore throat; we noticed the sun wasn’t visible until several hours after sunrise because it took that long to get above the smog. And yet it had some of the most beautiful, breathtaking sights and wonderful people I’ve ever met. The children were precious.”

The Community Plumbing Challenge is a project of the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) and the WorldSkills Foundation. Lorge will be a team coach again in 2016 for a project in South Africa.


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