School district slowly overhauling dilapidated fleet of buses

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GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Students around the district soon will be riding to school on new buses.

Many students agree the district’s school buses are old and could use a facelift. Some have air conditioning, some don’t. Some drive smoothly. As the district’s plans becomes a reality, students will be able to enjoy new buses by the start of the next school year this August.

“It’s a very exciting time for us,” Transportation Director Derald Sweatt said. “More are coming in every week and our plan is to have all 100 transitioned by the beginning of next school year.”

The new buses began to roll into the district’s transportation department a couple of weeks ago and they’ll continue to roll in over the coming weeks. The district’s bus program consists of 240 buses. Of those 240 buses, 139 have air conditioning. The district plans to replace 100 buses which comes with a cost of $10 million to be paid over seven years.

The district said it will soon have one of the newest bus fleets in Florida. It also anticipates easier recruiting measures moving forward. The district also has been struggling to hire bus drivers it needs, and new buses should make it easier to attract them.

Sweatt said it takes about two hours for mechanics to transition old bus equipment to the new bus. This includes things like radios. He hopes to have another 10 buses fully transitioned by next week.

“That’ll be a great accomplishment if we can do that and the hope is to continue that pattern moving forward as we near August,” Sweatt said.

New buses are great for everyone involved but what do bus drivers who have driven the new buses think? Clay Today spoke with bus driver Amy Smith about these new buses and what they mean for drivers in the district.

Compared to the old buses, what is it like driving these new buses?

“It’s a good bit smoother and it drives better on the dirt roads. It’s not as loud either.”

How long had you been driving the older bus?

“Eight years.”

Why was it important for the district to get new buses?

“New buses with air conditioning was as important as getting raises. We got both so we are excited. The students behave better on air-conditioned buses when it’s very hot outside, plus, us drivers who didn’t have air conditioning will feel better. It came down to the safety of my students and for myself.”

How has the reception from students been so far?

“I think I’m one of the first ones because I needed the extra seats on the bus. The students loved it though. Like they got a new car for Christmas.”

Final thoughts?

“All of us drivers are excited for the next school year when we will all have air conditioning and video cameras on our buses.”

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