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Two new school buses go aero

Buses have a decidedly aerodynamic look to them

by: KATE WENNERSTROM/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The Crook County School District recently purchased two new school buses which have a distinctive appearance.

With cars and trucks becoming more stylishly aerodynamic and safety standards continually progressing, it shouldn't come as a surprise that school buses are following the trend.
   On that note, the Crook County School District (CCSD) recently became the owner of two new school buses, which bring safety features to the forefront along with a distinctive design.
   "It's been exciting to see the reaction. I've had a lot of comments," CCSD Transportation Supervisor Roger Lyle said. "I think they're pretty neat because of the visibility around them. When you're sitting in the seat, there are real tall windows on both sides. Then as you look down over the hood, even little kids, you can see their heads. There's nothing scarier than to think that there could be a kid between you and the bus in front of you."
   The buses also feature interior differences compared to older models, which Lyle thinks the children find more appealing.
   "The drivers seem to like the buses really well and the kids love them," he said. "They're actually a little more roomy inside and the seat backs are a little taller. I think they're more comfortable for the students, plus they like the coolness of being on the new bus."
   For now, one of the new additions is transporting youth from the middle and high school to the Powell Butte area. The other new bus takes children from Crooked River and Cecil Sly Elementary Schools to the Wainwright Road neighborhood.
   "One of them replaced the oldest bus that we had that was still being used as a route bus. That one was an obvious choice," Lyle said. "Then I had a choice between five other buses that were all bought at the same time and I just went with the one that had the highest mileage."
   While the new buses have a distinctive appearance, their sleek lines improve fuel efficiency too.
   "They are new age buses," Lyle said. "That's one of the things that I liked about them because the front end is aerodynamic it also helps with fuel mileage. Even though diesel fuel is more expensive, the mileage per gallon, is more than gas, so it kind of offsets."
   With a cost of $85,000 apiece, CCSD was able to purchase two of the 77-seat buses through a Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB), which they applied for last year.
   "We had to make a fairly detailed proposal of how we were going to use the money," CCSD Business Manager Jan Brieske said. "We did propose for up to five buses or more if we could get a good deal."
   The application for the QZAB was approved, and in addition to the two buses acquired this year, CCSD will be adding to the fleet in the 2008-2009 school year.
   "We will have three more coming next year," Brieske continued. "It's likely that we'll put two of them out at Juniper Canyon because they have drop down chains and we need those on all of our routes out there. The third one to be purchased next year, its route is yet to be determined at this time."
   "As we saw this school year, we had a snow day and another day where we had a two-hour delay due to snow. Most of that was in the Juniper Canyon area," Lyle added. "We have two buses right now that have drop down chains on them already and we're ordering all of the new ones with drop down chains. My plan is for next school year to have all four buses that service the Juniper Canyon area with drop down chains. Again, it's a safety issue."
   With the wellbeing of the students being the main concern for the transportation department, a low average age of the school bus fleet is remains a high priority.
   "The age of our fleet was averaging, getting up close to 15 years," Lyle said. "Some of the buses that we have in our fleet currently, which we're still using as spares, are 20 plus years old. My goal, when I took over as the supervisor last year, was to try to find a way to decrease the average age of our fleet and try to get some new buses in here."
   "This helps bring the average age of the fleet down. It helps get us down to somewhere around an average age of 10 or 12 years. It's not bad," Brieske added. "We also get a state reimbursement on depreciation for 10 years on a bus, so that helps to move us toward being on a cycle of a 10-year replacement."
   With the job of transporting hundreds of school-age youth throughout the county, keeping up with the latest advancements in safety and comfort takes precedence.
   "Safety is our first concern, and these buses have visibility all over," Lyle said. "You never know what kids are going to do, but we have to keep them safe."