Forest Grove officials say theyll save money by switching to propane

Mid-Columbia Bus Co., (MIDCO) the company that provides the Forest Grove School District’s transportation services, formally proposed a nearly $4 million plan to convert the current diesel bus fleet to liquid propane at Monday’s school board meeting.

In a letter sent to the district in November, company CEO Tony Barnhart outlined the Pendleton-based company’s conversion plan, emphasizing fuel-cost savings to the district of $407,887 over the next 10 years.

District Business Manager Mike Schofield said he planned to seek approval of the plan the next board meeting on Jan. 27. Board chairman John Hayes indicated he would vote yes. “There are clear cost savings to the district, plus the propane fuel will emit less particulate matter into the atmosphere,” he said.

The plan calls for MIDCO to purchase and place into service 10 liquid-propane buses this year; five over the next four years; and six the fifth year. “All of the buses will be brand new and come direct from the Bluebird manufacturing company in Georgia,” said Barnhart. “Our total investment in the 36 buses is estimated to be $3.73 million.”

The plan calls for eight of the buses to include luggage racks for trips, and two would have flat floors and flex seating for wheelchairs. MIDCO will develop an on-site 1,000-gallon propane fueling facility in the back of the current bus barn on Taylor Way in Forest Grove.

“In year four, we will add a second tank for a total investment of $15,000 to $20,000,” Barnhart said.

A key benefit to the conversion, officials said, will be a 50 percent reduction in maintenance costs, lower shop and operating costs and longer bus life.

“Because of the amount of the investment,” Barnhart said, “we are requesting the district provide a five-year extension to the existing agreement term. With the extension, MIDCO will have adequate time to recover its investment.”

Also at Monday night’s meeting, Brian Hawkins, the district’s director of technology, proposed an update of the district’s existing cell phone, communication device and social media policies.

“With the cell phones, we wanted to clarify the use of district and private phones,” he said. “District-owned phones are to be used for authorized district business only, and employees have no expectations of privacy with these phones.”

Hawkins pointed out that changes to the policies were meant “mainly to clean up the language, and to make it clear that staff use must not disrupt classes. We also made minor changes in the section that addresses the use of social media by staff members, on- or off-duty.

“They are not to post confidential information about students, staff or district business, and [must] treat fellow employees, students and the public with respect.”

Each policy states that any misuse of cell phones, communication devices or social media by staff will result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. The policy updates are set for approval at the Jan. 27 board meeting.

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