Barlows Big Stink! And Other Cases of Bathroom Blues

The sink in the male 300 hall bathroom has been fully ripped off of the wall.
The sink in the male 300 hall bathroom has been fully ripped off of the wall.
Jacob Hallberg

Barlow has, for the past few years now, been plagued by numerous school-wide issues pertaining to the bathrooms. Sporadic closures, damaged or unusable facilities, bathrooms that are difficult to access due to students loitering in the bathrooms, and most recently there was the infamous “Big Stink,” where the 100, 200, and 300 halls smelled like raw sewage for a period of about two days.

Barlow has eight male and female bathrooms spread across the campus (including locker rooms). At time of writing, two sets of those bathrooms are completely closed, those being the male and female restrooms in the 200 and 600 halls. And one set is partially closed, that being the male bathroom in the 300 hall.

Throughout the year, bathrooms across the school have been closed for a multitude of reasons. Most recently the male main hall bathroom was closed for a brief period due to vandalism. And this is not an isolated incident, according to Principal Bhear, when a bathroom is closed, it is almost always because an act of vandalism has rendered the bathroom unusable.

Bhear puts the origin of the bathroom crisis around the time of the pandemic, saying “I can’t remember a time before the pandemic when the total destruction of the bathrooms was cool.” Whatever the exact cause may be, Bhear says that since the pandemic the amount of incidents of both vandalism and smoking/vaping in the bathrooms has increased dramatically. According to numbers provided by Administration, as of April 30th there have been 69 confirmed incidents of students smoking or vaping in the bathrooms this semester alone. The highest number of cases have come from Sophomore girls, with 24 incidents; followed closely by Freshmen girls with 23, and Freshmen boys with 21. 

In an effort to crack down on students vaping in the bathroom, the school has enacted various policies to punish and ultimately disincentive vaping on school grounds. Most notably, last year the school installed vape alarms in every bathroom across the school. The alarms, which not only let out a loud blaring sound, but also directly alert staff members by text message when vape particles are detected, were initially unveiled alongside a strict policy whereby any students in the bathroom at the time the alarm went off would be immediately suspended. That policy has since been retired, following much backlash from the student body. The alarms, however, remain and are still in use, despite the original policy being rolled back. Bhear also assures students that the alarms are always on, and even if they do not audibly sound, staff are still automatically notified when an alarm is tripped or tampered with. As it stands, the school’s current plan is much simpler: hall monitors will be stationed around different bathrooms at various points throughout the day, and will routinely check the bathrooms for any disturbances.

Bhear says the school is working on a new set of policies that are set to take effect sometime next year, though he declined to comment on specifics, so stay tuned. According to Bhear, the schools policies have been somewhat effective at curtailing vaping in the bathrooms, though he notes that there’s little the school can do to prevent vandalism.

Perhaps the most egregious example of vandalism came earlier this year with the closure of the 300 hall boys bathroom, after the sink was completely ripped off the wall, likely due to students sitting on it. The cost to repair the sink will likely total multiple thousands of dollars, and is still an ongoing process.

Of particular concern to admin is the worrying habit of flushing things down the toilets that really don’t belong there. According to members of the custodial staff, students have flushed all sorts of things down the toilets, with single use vape pens being among the most common items. The recent Big Stink which filled a large portion of the school with an absolutely rancid odor, was in fact caused by a piece of junk being flushed down a toilet, resulting in a busted pipe. 

While closed bathrooms and ominous stink clouds are a pretty obvious consequence of vandalism, it’s important to remember the toll it takes on the custodial staff, who are the ones who ultimately have to clean up the mess left by students. Jesus Bautista, a custodian said: “It’s a critical thing, we try to have a safe place.” For the custodial staff, keeping the bathrooms open, functional, and clean has been an uphill battle, “We need the cooperation of the students,” Bautista says. The staff want the students to know that the bathrooms are a shared space, and it will take the collective effort of the entire student body to keep them in proper order.

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