BBUWP completes 3rd Annual Community Plumbing Challenge

Published 8:17 am Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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Generations of Lowndes County residents have lived with failing plumbing and wastewater disposal systems, but many are experiencing a change in those circumstances, thanks to a local program and help from a few of the area’s younger citizens.

The Blackbelt Unicorporated Wastewater Program (BBUWP) completed its 3rd Annual Community Plumbing Challenge April 8-10. The challenge employed high school students from The Calhoun School and Central High School to conduct in-home surveys toward the goal of repairing or replacing failing residential plumbing systems.

Perman Hardy, BBUWP president, said the program is a partnership between BBUWP, global plumbing manufacturer LIXIL and the International Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Foundation (IWSH) aimed at addressing wastewater disposal disparities in the Black Belt region.

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“The program partnered up with BBUWP to bring about changes not only to the outside of people’s homes but also on the inside,” Hardy said. “We’re upgrading people’s plumbing to lower water usage in their home and in some cases, to resolve dangerous situations.”

Students Ricky Bender, Danjuma Gordon, Jaden Middleton, Ayala Johnson, Demarcus McCord and Haigler Johnson, Jr. received instruction on recognizing household plumbing concerns, delivering the plumbing survey and engaging with homeowners. On-site engagement with local plumbers gave them hands-on experience with the goal of nurturing the students’ interest in plumbing careers and helping within their own community.

Students were paid $20 per hour for their work and were accompanied by chaperones, licensed plumbers and instructors IWSH instructors Randy Lorge and Robyn Fischer.

Jed Scheuermann and Lorge developed the bespoke IWSH Household PlumbingSurvey students used to evaluate plumbing systems for necessary repairs and highlighted how the program gives an inside look into the area’s current challenges and how they can be part of the solution.

“The neat thing is [students] are seeing the situation from a plumber’s perspective,” Scheuermann said. “They are getting exposed to the trades, which is something that is almost absent in high schools today. The trades are a viable career and the ability to earn a good living is off the charts.”

Scheuermann described the student-workers as diligent, and eager to soak up the opportunity.

“Every experience I had with them showed they are eager to learn,” he said. “They are like sponges; they just want to soak it up. Their attitude, their willingness to learn and to stretch beyond their comfort zones has been really refreshing.”

During the three-day training, students inspected 10 homes and the effort will continue with the aim of surveying 80 homes between April and August. Partnering with LIXIL, those inspections will ultimately lead to the repair of plumbing systems in those homes.

“We’re trying to launch a program with BBUWP to do the inspections and coordinate the plumbing repairs outside of IWSH,” said Mike Webster, LIXIL senior project manager. “We’ve got a plumber who was with us this week, went to the training and worked alongside the other plumbers. We are hiring him to work with the students doing the assessments as well as the repairs. Once we get everything organized and make sure it’s running smoothly, it will be called the Interior Plumbing Improvement Program (IPIP).”

The challenge is just one of several ways BBUWP is working to address Lowndes County’s wastewater disposal problems and prepare future leaders to continue the effort.

“We are trying to get a plumbing vocation program for the schools,” said BBUWP executive director Sherry Bradley. “And we are almost there. We want these kids to be able, if they choose not to go to a four-year college, to work and make good money as a plumber.”