Bus buy gives USD 408 students much more comfort at less cost


The ?new? Blue Bird activity bus was resting in the USD 408?s ?bus barn? on Friday, but it is expected to hit the road this week carrying students to a variety of events. The district purchased the 47-passenger touring bus for less money than the cost of a traditional used yellow school bus. The bus, purchased from a company in South Dakota, is trimmed in Marion?s school colors of red and blue. The current wording on the side of bus will be replaced with vinyl lettering created within the school?s art department.

Starting this week, students from Unified School District 408 will be traveling to activity events in considerably more comfort than they have been in the past.

Last Wednesday, the Marion-Florence district acquired a 1998 Blue Bird transit-style touring bus.

The bench seats, open-window ventilation and limited storage space of the traditional yellow activity bus will be replaced with the reclining individual seats, air-conditioning, spacious storage?and even six video monitors.

District officials are quick to point out, though, that the upgrade in comfort did not require an upgrade in cost.

?It?s not that we?re being extravagant, but we were at the right place at the right time for a great deal,? Superintendent Lee Leiker said.

The district was needing to replace one of its older buses.

?We had a couple of the yellow activity buses, like a lot of schools do, and one of them was just kind of wearing out,? Leiker said.

The bus required engine and transmission work, but was already 19 years old. State law allows schools to keep a new school bus a maximum of 20 years.

?We really hesitated putting money into (the old bus) when in one year it was going to have to be out of our fleet,? Leiker said.

The district priced a couple of used yellow buses, with the asking price falling between $55,000 and $65,000.

Then Dick Maggard, district transportation director, noticed an ad for the Blue Bird touring bus in a school-bus magazine. The seller was willing to part with it for $49,900.

?I thought maybe it was a misprint on the price,? Leiker said. ?But I found out the owner does school-bus routes for several schools up in South Dakota and does their activity trips as well.

?With the economy as it is, schools were cutting back. He wasn?t using the bus and needed to move it.?

Leiker said the district did its due diligence.

?We e-mailed pictures and corresponded, I talked with him several times and asked several questions because I know the value of these (buses),? he said. ?The price is usually up there quite a bit.?

Leiker and two board members with mechanical experience, Lyle Leppke and Duane Kirkpatrick, drove to Yankton, S.D., Wednesday, made a hands-on inspection and test drive?and made the deal for $49,900.

?We just thought it was a great deal,? Leiker said. ?It was so much less (money) than a used yellow one.?

Beyond personal comfort, transit-style buses have multiple advantages over traditional school buses, according to Leiker.

?Yellow buses are good for maybe 150,000 miles, then are pretty worn out,? he said. ?These are good for 750,000 miles. They?re just built to last a long, long time. You also don?t have the 20-year limit on these coach buses.?

The bus acquired by the district has 154,000 miles on it, according to Leiker.

The ?almost new? bus has 47 seats compared to 44 to 48 in the district?s yellow buses.

To top it off, the bus was already trimmed in Marion?s school colors, red and blue.

The existing lettering on the side of the bus that identifies the former owner?B-J School Buses?will be peeled off and then updated with lettering the district itself can produce.

?In our art department we have a vinyl cutter, so we?ll put own letters on it,? Leiker said. ?We?ll experiment to see if we can put a Warrior head on it, too?maybe we?ll paint one on the back to try to make it identify with USD 408.?

Leiker said the touring bus will be used as frequently as needed. It actually gets slightly better mileage than a traditional bus?by two miles to the gallon.

?It will be our first activity bus to go out,? he said. ?We?ll use it for all of our extra-curricular activities?our fine arts, or if we have a large group going to forensics, and of course, all of our athletics.?

Scheduling challenges are inevitable, he added, particularly with athletics.

?It will be a matter of which team gets it because on some days we have all our teams going out,? Leiker admitted. ?We?ll tend to cater to our varsity, but we?ll use it for our junior high as well. When it?s available, it will go out.?

With age comes privilege, he added.

?When junior high and high school are going out at the same time, it?s probably going to go with the high school,? Leiker said. ?We want those junior high athletes and students to look forward to getting into this kind of thing.?

Though the bus arrived in Marion a few days before Easter, Leiker said the deal felt more like Christmas.

?We got a great deal on a motorcoach bus that we never dreamed would fall into place,? he said.

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