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SPECIAL REPORT


require the buses to be started and operated. He said this helps prevent potential fuel or electrical problems. While Brewington noted sitting fuel does have the po-


tential to cause challenges, several preventive measures can help eliminate them. These include frequently start- ing the buses, adding biocide in the fuel, and keeping fuel tanks (bulk storage and buses) full. Meanwhile Tony Lavezzo, fleet supervisor for Tahoe


Truckee Unified School District near California’s north- east border with Nevada, said his staff kept the fleet up to date with 45-day inspections and performing repairs during the COVID-19 “downtime.” “Our schedule is a little different than other school


districts, as we do not have a backlog of repairs that we are waiting to do during the summer,” Lavezzo said. “We do major repairs as needed all year long to keep consis- tent workflow throughout the year. Right now, we want to keep our inspection schedule consistent, so that when we go back to transporting students, all of our inspec- tions are not bunched together.” Several garage experts also told STN that they have


maintained their inspection and service checks “as nor- mal.” However, Lavezzo noted that his district has some concerns about buses sitting for months on-end. He said his staff treated fuel to limit the amount of algae growth and they start all the buses on a weekly schedule. “Start- ing the buses help keep internal engine components lubricated and help extend battery life,” Lavezzo said. Scott Miller, head mechanic for Brockport Central School District in New York state, said his mechanics don’t allow the buses to sit idle. Instead, they keep the vehicles moving frequently. “The wheels on the bus go round and round,” he added, alluding to the popular children’s song. He also noted that fuel isn’t an issue, either, as they


treat all of their diesel and gasoline fuel with additive. While these Garage Stars are continuing their rou-


tine from where they left off when schools closed, Mark Smith, the lead technician for East Allen County Schools in Indiana, confessed that transitioning back into the garage amid COVID-19 hasn’t been as easy for his district. In addition to only being able to work at half capacity for the first several months, Smith said his staff struggled with dead batteries, a short supply of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. “When we first found out that we were going to be


out for an extended period, I contacted our fuel sup- plier,” Smith recalled. “Together, we developed a plan that should allow us to be in good shape with fuel. Our greatest concern is battery life. We have had to change out nearly a third of our fleets batteries, which is up con- siderably over the last few years.” Meanwhile, Andy DeBolt, lead equipment manager for the San Jose Unified School District in California, shared that staff was initially sent home in March. However, the following month, the district partnered with the City


18 School Transportation News • AUGUST 2020


of San Jose to increase meal delivery counts, which called school buses back into action. DeBolt said he and his team


returned to the shop to support that effort. They worked to en- sure that the buses being used to deliver meals were available and ready to use, but the rest of the fleet remained grounded indefinitely. “From the outset of the


shutdown in March, I figured we would be in this for the long haul,” DeBolt explained. “We made sure as the [last] day ended that the buses were all fueled and the diesel ex- haust fluid was topped off. We also stayed late that Friday afternoon and disconnected all the batteries on the buses to prevent mass failures on startup.” He said preventive maintenance, plus a little extra time and money spent before problems arise on the buses, saves the district down the road. DeBolt noted that San Jose didn’t have too many con- cerns about school buses sitting for the extended time, except for vandalization or theft. He said the same night the district closed, staff ensured all the buses were secured. “We engaged all the vandal locks and locked all the


Andy DeBolt helps keep buses running for San Jose Unified School District in California.


doors,” DeBolt said. “Since we really had no idea when or if we would be back, we thought the best course of ac- tion was to take these preventative measures. It turns out we were right. We had several instances that the build- ings and other vehicles were damaged or vandalized, but never an issue with the buses.” Because the operation burns through fuel quickly, he noted that storage in underground tanks was only one to two months old. Therefore, fuel sitting for an extra month or three wasn’t going to cause any issue for fuel quality. He shared that San Jose Unified uses high-qual- ity Neste renewable diesel fuel that starts out with a higher cetane rating than regular No. 2 diesel. He also said that renewable diesel contains less particulates and “stuff” that could cause gelling or cloudiness. DeBolt said as the district is now prepping for school


startup, he is fortunate that the school buses are with- in an average age range. He said their oldest bus used daily is a 2017 Thomas Built Buses Saf-T-Liner HDX, so required upkeep has been minimal. As of July, he said the district was focused on getting the fleet back into compliance after the long shutdown. Staff were performing their 45-day or 3,000-mile inspec- tions and working on getting half of the fleet recertified with the California Highway Patrol. ●


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