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'Get the lead out': Portland Public Schools to begin replacing plumbing fixtures

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Portland Public Schools (PPS) will begin replacing plumbing fixtures this week to eliminate lead in drinking water.

Money from a record $790 million bond that voters passed in May is paying for it.

"You can help us get the lead out of our water," an ad for the bond, the largest in Oregon history, told voters last spring. "Please vote yes to get the lead out."

Now, PPS is making good on that promise according to district spokesman, Dave Northfield. He told KATU work will begin at 4 p.m. at Astor K-8 on Friday. Last week, the district said work would begin on Wednesday.

"When the bond passed that began the process of putting the project together, hiring the project managers, putting the work out to bid and organizing the work; evaluating which schools had the highest level of urgency," Northfield said.

Starting at schools with the youngest students at the most risk for the effects of lead in drinking water, PPS will replace fixtures in batches of 15 school buildings at a time in six-week increments at a total cost of $28 million.

Work will take place after school hours and will concentrate on drinking fountains in hallways and kitchen water fixtures.

"Folks who are not on the first list needn't worry because it won't be long before we'll get to them," Northfield said. "They don't all need every fixture replaced. Some are just smaller buildings that just need three or four. High schools have tons of fixtures which will be much more complicated."

Until schools are upgraded, students, teachers and staff will continue to drink bottled water.

All that bottled water cost the district $800,000 during the last school year.

"It's not optimal but just ensuring that they have safe drinking water is the number one priority," Northfield said.

Officials told KATU all 79 schools in the district, including all 90 school buildings, should be upgraded in about nine months.

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