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Why is this bond needed? 80s-built transportation facility does not meet state standards

small garage bay The year is 1980. Jimmy Carter is the 39th president of the United States. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is released in theaters, while Pink Floyd, David Bowie and KC and The Sunshine Band are all the rage. Gas cost $1.19 a gallon, and the average cost of a new home is $68,700. That’s okay because the average yearly income in 1980 is only $19,500.

That same year, Union County has five high schools, five middle schools and 10 elementary schools, totaling about 12,000 students.

This is also the year the then Union County Schools built the transportation garage.

Today, UCPS has 53 schools and about 42,000 students. The transportation facility, however, remains the same.

“We’ve tremendously outgrown this facility,” said Transportation Director Marlon Watson. “With limited space, it’s hard to adequately get in there and service the buses. It would boost morale if the guys felt they had a sufficient amount of space to do the job at hand.”  

A new $12 million transportation facility is on the Nov. 8 bond referendum, part of the total $54 million in school bonds being put before voters.

If the bond passes, construction of the new 50,723 square-footage transportation facility is slated to be built on Gold Mine Road, on land currently owned by the school system. It is designed for 16 bays, has parts and storage areas, secure parking, and will have office space and bathroom that are ADA compliant.

This isn’t the first time school officials have voiced a need for a new transportation facility. Historically, however, that need has been set aside to build and/or repair schools.

mechanics working on bus

Now that need has become critical. There are currently 412 school buses being maintained by about 22 mechanics. The 36-year-old transportation garage has only six bays, less than half of what is recommended by the Department of Public Instruction for a school system the size of UCPS. 

The limited space forces mechanics to work on the buses outside on the gravel parking lot behind the building. (Pictured at right).   

There are 14 additional mechanics who work in the field, assigned to schools. When repairs merit bringing a bus into the garage, limited space often forces the route mechanics to do the repairs in the parking lots at their schools.

“A new transportation facility would give us more room to work on things instead of working outside all the time,” said Kenny Stewart, a route mechanic. “We can do the smaller stuff in the field, but the major stuff, it would be nice to be able to bring it in the shop and have room to do it instead of working outside in 100-degree weather.”

Inside the garage, the mechanics who are working on buses have to maneuver around the clutter of tools placed on tables or the ground between the buses due to lack of storage space. (Pictured below).

Quality assurance manager, Keith Dockery, said a new transportation facility would give mechanics that needed space to work and properly store their equipment. “It will give us more room to store the jacks, for example. Now everything is just cluttered up or bunched up, and more in the way.”

clutter in school bus garage Bus parts are stored in several locations around the transportation facility, but none of the storage rooms are close to each other. “It just reduces your productivity when you have to go from one location to another to find the parts you’re looking for,” Watson said.

When a bus’ transmission needs work, the low ceilings of the garage prevent the mechanics from raising the buses, meaning they have to work on their backs under the bus. Dockery said this makes the job much more difficult.

The facility also needs larger diesel and fuel storage tanks. “We can’t buy but so many gallons per week because of the small size of the storage tanks that we have,” Watson said. “We have to order it more frequently because we don’t have the space to store it.”

The problem of limited space isn’t just with mechanics. Office efficiency is affected by cramped quarters, as well.

“You may have one person downstairs and a group of three upstairs, but they all work in the same department,” Watson said. “We just don’t have sufficient space to put them all in the same room together.”

Neither the upstairs office spaces nor the restrooms throughout the building are ADA compliant. The customer waiting area is so small, that Watson can stand in the middle of the room, with his arms outstretched and reach both walls. Visitors frequently have to wait outside because of lack of space inside.

What makes the situation even more difficult is that currently the Maintenance Department shares the same 36-year-old building. 
Watch the following video for more information about the Nov. 8 bond referendum. 

Written by: Communications Coordinator Deb Bledsoe
Posted: Sept. 15, 2016