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Monday, September 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Mead School District is ‘one of the lucky ones’: EPA grant helps with purchase of five more new buses

Mead School District accepted the shipment of the last two of seven new buses it purchased with the help of a Washington state Department of Ecology grant. The district has ordered five more new buses thanks to an Environmental Protection Agency grant. (Nina Culver / The Spokesman-Review)
Mead School District accepted the shipment of the last two of seven new buses it purchased with the help of a Washington state Department of Ecology grant. The district has ordered five more new buses thanks to an Environmental Protection Agency grant. (Nina Culver / The Spokesman-Review)

Mead School District Transportation Director Brian Liberg has been busy using grant money from the state and federal government to get old school buses, some dating back as far as 1999, off the streets and replaced with newer, more fuel-efficient buses.

The district recently learned it has been awarded a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to help purchase five new buses. The EPA program targets buses made before 2004 and estimates the new buses produce 90 percent less diesel pollution than the old ones, Liberg said.

“The engines and emissions systems in buses have improved with technology,” he said. “The idea is to get the older buses off the roadway because of their diesel emissions.”

The new buses have been ordered and are expected to arrive in September and October. The district just took delivery of the last two buses out of a batch of seven ordered with the help of a Washington state Department of Ecology grant.

That’s not to say the grants entirely pay for the buses, which cost about $125,000 each. The EPA grant provided $20,000 per bus and the state DOE grant provided $35,000 per bus. “It just helps,” Liberg said. “The grant just helped speed up the process of bus replacement.”

As part of the grant process, the district is required to make the old buses unusable. Their frames are cut in half and a 3-inch hole is bored into the engine block to ensure they’ll never run again. “There’s no amount of glue or foam that can fix that hole,” Liberg said.

Usually the district can only expect to make $2,000 to $3,000 per bus by selling them as surplus at an auction, so it makes financial sense to accept the grant money in exchange for destroying the old buses, Liberg said.

The new buses have features never imagined in buses dating back to 1999. There’s a child check button at the back of the bus that drivers are required to push at the end of each run as a way to ensure that they have checked the bus for any remaining students. The engines have preheaters on timers so they don’t have to be plugged in at night, and there are “spot chains” that drop down with the touch of a button to help with traction in bad road conditions.

The two new International buses the district just received also have a collision mitigation system just like some cars. A sensor mounted on the front bumper scans the road ahead and sounds an alarm and brakes if necessary to avoid a collision with a stopped or slower moving car. They also have an electronic stability control system to help avoid roll-over accidents.

The two buses, already given the numbers 40 and 57, will begin transporting students in the fall. The five International buses purchased with the help of the EPA grant will have the same features.

The district has 105 buses that travel within its 170 square mile boundary. Typically, a bus will spend 13 years on the road full-time, then become a back-up bus for another few years, Liberg said. “They’re not cheap,” he said. “We use them for a lot of years.”

Liberg said he tries to purchase four to five new buses a year as a way to keep his fleet on the road. “We’ve really put an emphasis on upgrading our fleet,” he said. “Our maintenance costs go down when you have a newer fleet.”

Liberg said he’s pleased his district was one of the few in Washington to receive a grant from the EPA.

“We were just one of the lucky ones,” he said.

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