By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
When the school district applied for an EPA funded bus replacement grant, transportation director Ronnie Cooley said he hoped the district might get lucky and be awarded enough for a couple buses to be replaced. If they got really lucky, he thought, they might get up to five.
“They told us it was like a lottery,” Cooley said.
The program allowed them to apply for the replacement of up to 25 buses, if those buses qualified under the restrictions of the program.
The district had 23 buses that were eligible for replacement under the program, he explained, so they applied for all of them, hoping the extra entries would give them more chances to be chosen in the lottery, but still never expecting they’d win more than a few.
So, they were very pleasantly surprised when the news came back that they were authorized for the replacement of all 23 of the district’s buses they’d submitted.
It comes at an opportune time too, Cooley explained, because they were going to need to replace many of those buses – all 2012 models or older – soon anyway due to mileage and age.
“We’re grateful, really, because there’s no cost to us,” Cooley said.
He said the grant amount totals to over $9 million for buses and chargers. He explained that the buses amounted to around $375,000 each, for the bulk of the award, with another $450,000 for the chargers.
“It’s a huge savings to us,” Cooley said.
He explained that the district has between now and May of 2023 to submit their purchase orders for the buses and chargers, so they have between now and April to get their orders in with the manufacturers. The deadline for having everything in place is October 2024.
“Once we submit payment requests in April/May it will be on our suppliers,” Cooley said.
They haven’t decided on who they will go with, but the potential suppliers include Bluebird, International, and Thomas – all established manufacturers they are familiar with.
“We already deal with those people,” Cooley said, and though there will be some differences in the maintenance and upkeep, he isn’t worried about a lack of support or replacement parts beyond those you would find with traditional diesel engines.
It’s only a small part of their total fleet.
“We have about 70 buses total, so about a third will be electric,” Superintendent, Dr. Paul Green, added in a separate conversation.
He explained that the 23 buses being replaced will be destroyed rather than resold. By the terms of the grant, he explained, they had to be rendered unusable.
“The EPA wants them decommissioned,” he said, adding they can only sell them as scrap after they are rendered unusable.Even if they won’t be able to recoup any costs from selling the buses or using them as trade-in, Green said, the fact they were receiving 23 new buses at no cost more than covered that.
He said that he was meeting this week with the power company to make sure they have the appropriate electric infrastructure for the charging stations, and to make sure if they did not they would before the buses and chargers were delivered.
Cooley said they were also taking steps to make sure the bus drivers would be trained on any differences, though he didn’t expect there would be too many beyond the replacement of a gasoline engine with a battery powered motor.
“The air brakes and everything will work the same,” Cooley said. “But we’re excited, and ready to make the most of it.”
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