District to add EV buses

USD 257 board members agreed to purchase two electric buses at a significant cost savings as part of an EPA program. Some board members had concerns but ultimately decided it was worth giving the buses a try.

By

Local News

June 11, 2024 - 3:10 PM

Aaron Cole, maintenance and transportation director for USD 257, talks to the school board about electric buses. Photo by Vickie Moss

USD 257 is cautiously entering the electric vehicle world. 

School board members approved an EPA program that will provide two electric school buses at significant cost savings. The district will pay $70,772 for the two buses and associated equipment, out of a total cost of more than $865,000. The district’s cost will be about half of the price of one diesel bus.

Board member John Wilson voted against the EV buses, while Dan Willis and Tony Leavitt said they were hesitant but ultimately voted for it. Robin Griffin-Lohman owns an electric vehicle and was in favor, citing advantages such as fuel and maintenance cost savings, lower emissions and a quieter ride.

“They’re so quiet, sometimes I forget to turn mine off,” she said, eliciting laughter.

Board chair Jennifer Taylor supported the plan, pointing out the district is allowed to sell the buses after five years. She suggested they try the buses, which come with a seven-year warranty.

Superintendent Stacey Fager spoke to the superintendent of the Caney district, which received EV buses from the same program in February. He spoke favorably about the buses, Fager reported.

MAINTENANCE and transportation director Aaron Cole brought the proposal to school board members months ago. He recently received notice from the EPA that Iola was approved. 

The EPA is in its third year of a five-year funding cycle to provide a rebate for districts to purchase EV buses. Districts that meet certain criteria could receive the buses at a very low cost. In the first year of the program, some districts faced no cost at all. Iola qualified this year, and Cole said it’s unlikely the district will get another opportunity for such significant savings. 

The life expectancy of an EV battery is currently between 8 and 10 years. Districts typically keep a bus up to 25 years, so it’s likely the district will need to replace the batteries. Cole couldn’t find a reliable estimate for replacement costs, but thought it could be about $50,000. 

USD 257 will get two electric buses. Photo by PHOTO COURTESY OF BLUE BIRD CORPORATION

Factoring in battery replacement costs, the district will still save money with the EV buses compared to diesel, Griffin-Lohman and Taylor said. Board member John Masterson said new technology tends to improve over time, so battery life and replacement cost might not be as much of a concern in 10 years.

Leavitt asked what routes the EV buses might be assigned. He was concerned about wear-and-tear from gravel roads, and the buses’ ability to navigate snowy or muddy roads. Cole said he likely would assign the buses to routes around Gas and LaHarpe, which are mostly hard-topped roads.

Cole said he anticipates a learning curve, much like any new technology.

The new buses won’t arrive for at least a year.

When they do, USD 257 will be required by the EPA to destroy two older diesel buses by putting a hole in the engine block. 

IN OTHER news, the district: 

Approved a hazard mitigation plan.

Approved revisions to handbooks for each school building.

Griffin-Lohman recognized band teacher Brandi Holt for fundraising efforts that include a “traveling toilet” display.

Heard a budget presentation from Dan Kays, director of the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. The Register will have a more detailed recap of the Bowlus budget at a later date. 

Related
January 23, 2024
March 1, 2019
January 28, 2014
July 2, 2012