PORTLAND — Hoping to educate students about the health and environmental benefits of choosing tap water, Ocean Avenue Elementary and the Portland Water District have teamed up to provide the school with a water bottle filling station.

In addition, at last week’s back-to-school social, the water district provided Ocean Avenue with 450 reusable water bottles, which students can fill up any time they get thirsty.

The school also plans to actively encourage students to drink tap water over other beverage choices. Displays around the building have been designed to inspire students to choose healthy hydration.

Using refillable water bottles also helps keeps plastic out of landfills, according to Principal Beverly Stevens.

She said Ocean Avenue Elementary applied for a grant from the water district for the water filling station to “make choosing water easy and simple” and to provide “a healthier alternative to drinks with sugar” for both students and staff.

“Our motivation is to have healthier students and staff,” Stevens said, but the new healthy hydration initiative also ties in perfectly with the school’s “Sharing the Planet” focus.

That’s why she’s so pleased that the water district has also provided the school with “a beautiful picture of Sebago Lake, showing where the water comes from.”

Stevens said, “It’s wonderful to have partners (who) support our work educating our students about healthy lifestyle” choices.

The water filling station was actually installed before school let out last spring and Stevens said since then the school has filled more than 6,500 bottles of water. And the new water bottles provided by the water district last week should mean even more water gets drunk.

So far Ocean Avenue Elementary is the only public school in the city to get a water filling station, but Michelle Clements, the water district’s public relations manager, said any entity that gets its water from the district can apply for a grant.

This year’s application deadline is Oct. 31.

The Portland Water District awards up to two water bottle filling stations per year with a maximum value of $2,000 for internal standalone units and $5,000 for outdoor units. To be eligible, grantees must ensure that the filling station will be open to the public and located in “a visible, high traffic area.”

“Tap water is a safe and a more affordable option than bottled water,” Clements said, adding that water provided by the Portland Water District is both safe and tasty. In fact, the district says its water is some of the best in the country.

Clements said the purpose of the district’s water station grant program is to “bring awareness of and improve access to our community’s excellent public water system. We are thrilled to partner with others who are also promoting tap water as a safe, healthy and affordable choice.”

Stevens said Laurie Hesselink, the school nurse at Ocean Avenue Elementary, wrote the successful grant application.

“Students are excited and like the filling station,” she said. “(And) our staff have said ‘This water is cool and fresh.'”

As for the water bottles the students received last week, Stevens said they’re already being used in both the classroom and at recess.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

The Portland Water District has provided Ocean Avenue Elementary School in Portland with a new water bottle filling station, along with 450 re-fillable water bottles as part of a program to encourage students to choose tap water over other beverages.

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