As students prepare to transition to the new high school building, the community discusses new bathroom policies and new environmentally conscious aspects of the future building.
BY JOURNALISM II STUDENTS SAFIA MALHOTRA, ’24; IRIS MARK, ’23; AND ELENA FERNANDEZ, ’23. GRAPHICS BY LUCY O’BRIEN, ’22. PHOTOS BY PENELOPE CLARK, ’21.
With the dawning of a new age of student voice and action, the new building provides a perfect platform for students and staff to cultivate a more positive atmosphere for generations to come. Features of the physical building only enhance this attitude, promoting the means of acceptance and environmental sustainability, both inside and outside the classroom.
As the Upper Arlington community is changing, many want to bring that same mindset into the new building. On Aug. 18, 2021, high school students will begin a new journey together when they enter the doors of the three-story glass-paned building that sits across from the current brick one.
While the new high school has yet to open its doors, there is already some controversy in its construction. A major source of concern around the new schools are the gender-neutral or all-user restrooms that were set to be installed in the new elementary and high schools. In protest, parents have taken the school to court and have gone to the state, while students have gone entire school days without using the restroom.
Community member, parent and former PTO president Cathy Pultz has spent the last three years protesting the all-user restrooms in the high school and elementary schools as well. She is currently president of the Upper Arlington Education Coalition, a group of parents in the Upper Arlington community who were focused on students returning to school five days a week amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It later morphed into a group that informs people on what is happening in the community. The Coalition, as Pultz refers to it, has information posted on their website about the lawsuits, tax money and plans centered around the all-user restrooms and their impact on the school and the community.
Due to her involvement in the UAEC, Pultz was removed from the PTO and has since focused her energy into preventing the school district from building the all-user restrooms in the new high school.
Along with the UAEC, Pultz has gone to board meetings, conducted interviews with both local and national news outlets and created petitions in an attempt to halt the construction of the restrooms.
Pultz stated that she is not against the gender-neutral restrooms themselves, but rather that she would prefer separate bathrooms for separate genders along with gender-neutral bathrooms.
“The school district will come out now and say that there’s a choice in every building, but if you look at the plans, the choice of a bathroom is not close. At the high school, the only men’s and women’s separate facilities are by the gym,” Pultz said. “If you’re on the third floor of the new building, you don’t have five minutes if you prefer to go to the boy bathroom or the girl bathroom—so you really don’t have a choice.”
However, Chris Potts, Chief Operating Officer for Upper Arlington Schools, stated that the new high school will have gender-specific bathrooms and self-contained family-style restrooms on every floor, providing a choice for all students.
“There may be a bit longer walk to the nearest gender-specific or self-contained family-style restroom,” Potts said. “But our walkthroughs have shown that to be two minutes or less.”
In addition, these bathrooms have come with questions of the reason the district initially made the decision.
The main reason is simply to provide more privacy for all students. The private bathrooms in the new design have floor-to-ceiling walls and full-sized locking doors, so there are no floor or ceiling gaps like that of the gender-specific stalls in the current high school building. The design also means equal wait time for everyone, not just lines at one gender’s restroom.
The other reasons for the updated design come down to practicality and safety. At the elementary level, it’s easier to supervise students and minimize the risk of teasing and bullying when a teacher or other staff member can supervise the area and all of their students. It was not possible for one adult to do that when students would leave to go to two separate restroom areas.
While classes don’t take restroom breaks together at the high school level, the new design still allows for more supervision than the older design while increasing privacy for each individual student.
There is also the fact that the school wants to be more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community, specifically students who identify as transgender and non-binary, who may not feel comfortable in the bathroom of their sex at birth.
“When we have students who are questioning their assigned gender or sex or who identify differently than their assigned gender or sex, they are able to use the restroom without added stress for themselves or their classmates,” Potts said.
Freshman Thea Postalakis is an avid advocate for the all-user restrooms in the new schools.
“It’s a great decision for people who are trans and non-binary so that they can feel comfortable. As a cis [gendered] person that doesn’t affect me at all,” Postalakis said.
However, an argument brought up by Pultz is the hygiene of the bathrooms, or lack thereof. Boys’ bathrooms in the high school are notorious for being in constant disarray, from dismantling of toilets to urine on stall walls.
“I’ve had parents tell me their daughters have been told to hover so they don’t actually sit on the seat, or they’ve been told to go find a custodian to clean it, and I just think by this style you’ve made it unhygienic for boys and girls,” Pultz said. “You’re either asking a boy to touch the lid to lift it, or if the boy doesn’t want to lift it—which I don’t blame him. Then there might be pee on the seat and then the girl has to deal with that.”
The lack of urinals in the bathrooms is both cause for worse hygiene and are also another source of controversy. Many boys express frustrations over not being able to use a urinal in school bathrooms in the future.
“I just want all kids to feel comfortable,” Pultz said. “I don’t think in this situation that all kids do.”
Postalakis expressed a different view.
“We’re in classrooms with these people. We’re with every gender, and so why would it be any different to be in the bathrooms with them? It’s just a bathroom,” Postalakis said.
Although the restrooms were already constructed, the plans for gender-neutral signage will now be changed to gendered after a dispute between the city and the Board of Education over the legality of the all-user restrooms.
As support for creating a more accepting environment in the new school grows, the need for physical sustainability is called into action. According to Chris Potts, sustainability was a priority from the very beginning of the planning phase.
“Early in the design process we created a ‘Green Team’ made up of students, staff and community members. The committee met multiple times to review sustainability and potential areas of our new building that could be impacted,” Potts said.
Contrary to the almost nonexistent policy regarding sustainability during the planning stages of the old high school, this proactive approach is a sharp turn from the lack of environmental procedures previously decided upon.
Environmental science teacher Beth Bailey said she’s enthusiastic about the opportunity for a higher level of environmental consciousness in the new building.
“I just hope that people have an awareness of a need for environmental sustainability,” Bailey said. “I think it’s going to be exciting [with] a lot of the glass, and open lighting spaces.”
Along with this increased consciousness, comes simply an expectation of environmental awareness in future buildings.
“We believe that sustainability is more than a trend. In many parts of the United States sustainability is an expectation,” said Allen Schaffer, Director of Sustainability at Moody Nolan, the architecture firm in charge of the new building. “More and more people are recognizing that buildings can positively impact these issues and are asking the design and construction industry to respond with projects incorporating sustainable strategies.”
From an energy standpoint, the new building will have a significantly higher performing system. The design team took into consideration every aspect of the building to utilize as many environmentally friendly options as possible.
According to Potts, “The old buildings [have] inefficient heating and cooling systems, inefficient lighting and an old control system. Consistent with most older facilities, these inefficiencies [result] in requiring more energy to operate the building.”
The heating system is expected to provide about a 15% improvement over the energy code minimum and the cooling system will have about a 35% improvement. The design team has achieved this improvement by giving the building exterior high performance glazing to reduce solar heat gain and a green roof at the south entry. Green roofs consist of plants, a growing medium and a waterproof membrane, which not only creates a cooler and more pleasing ambiance, but provides a space for growing native vegetation.
In efforts to conserve water, the district opted for hand-activated dual-flush toilets and low-flow flush water fixtures.
The lighting systems are expected to provide about a 60% improvement in efficiency compared to the original building. The school will be equipped with high performance LED lighting and an automated lighting control system with daylight sensors. The sensors will take into account the amount of light provided by the windows to use the least amount of energy possible.
“I’m excited for the new school’s heating [and] AC system. Hopefully, it will be more efficient, [as] the old one was very inconsistent and it seemed like a waste of energy,” sophomore Sanay Tufekci said.
As expressed by UAHS students, the handling of waste has been a major point of concern, especially when considering the size of the new building.
“I feel that in this building, there’s less areas to recycle, and I hope that they try to encourage [more] recycling rather than throwing away trash,” said junior Kyra Dapore, an environmental science student.
Currently at UAHS, there is no clear system for recycling, and a possible food waste program has been out of the question so far. However, there has been a significant commitment to addressing these concerns in the new building.
“We did discuss … how the district could create a district-wide program for both food waste and recycling,” Potts said. “We are in the process of creating a committee of teachers from all buildings to develop a program that could be sustained and consistent in all school buildings.”
With this, students can hope for a friendlier waste management program and expect to have more influence in the decision making process. Potts expressed the desire for student voices to be important contributors in the discussion surrounding friendly disposing practices.
As the new school’s completion draws ever closer, it is important to consider what exactly students and staff want to establish as a new precedent going forward. Environmental stewardship is a priority, but there is an opportunity now for the social atmosphere, that cultivates relationships and connections, to be reshaped as well.
“I guess from a teacher’s perspective, and observations, I just hope that we all have a caretaker’s view,” Bailey said. “[It] just bugs me when I see trash not being picked up the right way in the hallway or at lunch. So just ownership, [and] again not just for the environmental space but also of actions, and hopefully there are lots of organizations where kids can [talk to] and work with their peers.”