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Schools set up Thirst Stations for student hydration

SOLON– Gretchen Swan knows that staying hydrated is staying healthy.
But when the stay-at-home Solon mom thought about the whole plastic-water-bottles-in-the-landfill situation, she knew there had to be a better way.
She said her family was toting armfuls of water bottles and it made her think about reducing the plastic water bottles and encouraging reuse of personal water containers.
So she did some research and found some places that made a water-cooler, well, cooler.
She said she found some similar ideas outside the U.S. and eventually, with the help of an ad agency and web designer, she came up with a company website, a logo and some mouth-watering artwork for the machines.
Her new company, Thirst, has a motto of “Rethink, Reuse, and Refresh.”
And Gretchen said she has rethought how other parts of her life can become greener too.
Her family grows their own food now and composts for the garden. They also changed their water bottle use and she’s hoping the same thing will happen in Solon schools.
She’s trying out Thirst Stations in all three schools, with the Middle School, the last site, installed Dec. 14.
The Thirst Station has been described as a cross between a drinking fountain and a vending machine, and the machines feature cool, filtered water without the bottle.
Swan calls the water dispensers a waste-free alternative to other drink vending machines. And at Lakeview it’s all free for the taking and getting a very good reception.
At the Middle and High Schools, it’s also free to refill water bottles, but flavored water has a minimal cost.
“Flavors are Healthy Kids Act-compliant,” Swan said. She noted that fruit punch and the raspberry have been popular.
Flavored drinks are similar to sport drinks and vitamin-enhanced waters that can be bought at the store, according to Swan.
“I’m in no way trying to displace drinking fountains,” she said at Lakeview Elementary.
“Is there a greater good?” she’s asked herself about the project. If there is, if water bottle usage seem to have ebbed, Swan will go to the next phase of her start-up business and enlist a beverage distributor or other company to help her move forward.
The first one was installed at University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Business Building in Iowa City, and in addition to the Solon schools’ Thirst Stations, Iowa City schools also have two machines.
Thirst Station is right next to two drinking fountains at Lakeview Elementary.
The dispenser is connected to the school’s water supply and filters water and refills student water bottles in three sizes.
After recess is a popular time at the water cooler, with students queuing at both drinking fountains and the Thirst Station. Schools allow students to carry their own supply during the days and most opt for drink bottles with a large opening to make refilling easier.
“My passion isn’t to run a business. It’s to set an example for my kids.” Swan said her children have become vigilant about waste and spotting other inefficiencies in the home. She thinks it’s because she’s placed such an emphasis on it.
Swan wouldn’t predict the future of her business. “I don’t know if this is the best solution,” she said, adding, “Maybe this is great but maybe this leads us to something better.”
Swan will evaluate her project at the end of the school year to see if there is enough of a demand in the area for Thirst Stations and examine the potential to distribute her product on a larger scale.