Media in a lather over Vancouver schools chief's shower

School district's board was not aware of $4,000 expense

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

Published:

Updated: September 17, 2013, 9:07 PM

 
photoThis shower was installed in the bathroom near Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Steve Webb's office at a cost of about $4,000.

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News that Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Steve Webb had a private shower installed in the bathroom near his office generated plenty of media attention Tuesday.

The first television news van arrived at the district office at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday morning, said Tom Hagley, Jr., the district’s chief of staff.

“To the best of our knowledge, VPS has not received any calls or email messages today from parents or community members expressing concern about the shower installation in the restroom adjacent to the superintendent’s office,” Hagley wrote in an email late Tuesday afternoon. “The only contacts we have received on this topic today were from media organizations, beginning at approximately 6:15 a.m. and continuing to the present time.”

The 3-foot-by-3-foot fiberglass shower was installed over the summer at a cost of about $4,000, said Todd Horenstein, the district’s assistant superintendent for facilities. Webb works long hours and often attends evening meetings.

School board members were not aware the shower was being installed.

School board President Dale Q. Rice said the board had no prior knowledge of the administrative shower installation. It was part of upgrades made over the summer to the administration building.

“The board approves general annual summertime facility maintenance/upgrades throughout the district, but only if the project exceeds a certain dollar threshold,” Rice wrote in an email. “This project was well under that threshold and was never brought to board attention.”

Rice said Webb is a running enthusiast, and sometimes will go for a run after work but before an evening meeting, so it made sense to let him have a place to clean up. The shower will be available to other school administrators, Rice said.

“It was a surprise to us,” board Vice President Edri Geiger said of the shower. “If we had been asked, we probably would have said no.”

In a statement released on Tuesday, the school district said: “This summer, several small works projects that did not require school board approval were completed in the district administrative offices: a partition wall was added in Information/Instructional Technology Services for computer and hardware storage, an office was added in Teaching and Learning Services, and a small shower enclosure was installed in a restroom adjacent to the superintendent’s office. The cost to add a 3 ft. by 3 ft. prefabricated fiberglass shower enclosure to an existing restroom was $4,000 including labor and materials.”

Columbian readers commented on the online story, both on Columbian.com and The Columbian’s Facebook page.

A minority of commenters approved of the expense. Commenter Sue Aberle wrote: “He had started with a cheaper solution, which was not feasible given the damage it would have caused to the restroom walls. Having read the article, I can totally see his point, and the rationale for the expense. He should be applauded for setting an example by running after work, and then he would need to clean up after the run.”

Most of those commenting disapproved of the shower.

Catherine van der Salm commented: “Honestly? Because kindergartners at Truman Elementary school have no restroom at all in their classroom, and have to be escorted by an aide to and from the main building.”

Jonathan Marianu commented: “A personal shower in one’s office is a luxury so installing this with public funds sets a poor example and is unwise for an elected official. As an SI, I would have found a way to use my own salary/resources to fund the renovation or I would have done without. Also consider that teachers are allowed and do use their personal funds to purchase school supplies.”

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/Col_Schools; susan.parrish@columbian.com