Van Wert High School freshman Alaina Arney presents the tool she created, and the various revisions she made, to help the custodial staff. Arney is applying to get a patent for the tool. (DHI Media/Erin Cox)
Van Wert High School freshman Alaina Arney presents the tool she created, and the various revisions she made, to help the custodial staff. Arney is applying to get a patent for the tool. (DHI Media/Erin Cox)
BY ERIN COX

DHI Media News Editor

ecox@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT — Van Wert City Schools Board of Education members were impressed on Wednesday afternoon after hearing a presentation from high school freshman Alaina Arney who is seeking a patent for a product she made to help the custodial staff at the schools.

Arney started the project when she was in eighth grade and has been working on it for almost a year. The project started when she was given the opportunity to work on some advanced assignments during her class time.

“I was presented with a problem from Mr. [Zane] McElroy and the custodial staff that they had this piece that they could not fix that was inside of a toilet,” she explained.

The custodial staff could not get a rubber gasket off easily without breaking the plastic piece in the toilet they were trying to fix. McElroy, the Gateway to Technology teacher at Van Wert Middle School, and Bob Spath, the engineering teacher at Van Wert High School, both get requests from teachers and staff for problems they may be having to which the teachers ask their students to try to fix the problem.

Arney took the problem and worked on a solution she thought would work. With a little help from McElroy and Spath, she designed two pieces, one that would go on top of the piece that needed removed and one that would go on the bottom.

She went through about five or six revisions and used a 3D printer to print the tool.

To the custodial staff’s relief, the tool worked, so well in fact, that the custodial staff asked a plumbing sales representative if there were any tools like that to remove that piece. As far as the school staff has researched, they cannot find any tools like it.

The school reached out to Jennfier Tipsword, who graduated from Van Wert High School in 1987, and is now a patent attorney.

Tipsword attended Northwestern University where she earned a degree in engineering and then went to Hofstra University to get her law degree, specifically for patents.

She met with Arney and school staff members on Tuesday and explained the process of getting a patent. Arney will apply for the patent which is a couple hundred dollars and then Tipsword explained that it is mostly legal work from there. Tipsword offered to donate her law firm’s services to do the research needed which would be equivalent of $5,000 to $10,000 in services.

“Now that you have the part it looks pretty simple,” Van Wert High School Principal Bob Priest said. “As Jennifer explained, ‘You know, if you look at the little plastic thing on the end of your shoe string that looks simple as well, but until somebody thought of it, it was never there.”

In other business, the Van Wert City Schools Board of Education members chose Debby Compton as the president for 2017 and Anthony Adams as vice president.

The board accepted the resignation of Kathy Wiseman, a paraprofessional at the Early Childhood Center, after 18 years with the district effective at the end of the 2016-17 contract year and Greg Amstutz, a high school custodian after 11 years of service in the district, effective July 1, both due to retirement.

The board’s next meeting will be at 5 p.m. Feb. 15 at the S.F. Goedde Building board room.