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Sequim buses gets perfect score

With Sequim's school classrooms empty for the summer, it was the buses' turn for exams.

Sequim School District's fleet of 32 buses scored a perfect 100 percent on the department's most recent Washington State Patrol vehicle safety check after state patrol officials inspected all buses and district support vehicles.

The 2008-2009 school year may have come to a close, but transportation supervisor and mechanic Jeff Gossage can be found most days during the summer under a school bus. He's either replacing parts or greasing or providing scheduled maintenance to the Sequim fleet ranging in age from a 1977 bus to a 2009 trip model.

The Sequim bus inventory includes one 1977, one 1986, three 1988s, two 1989s, one 1990, three 1992s, two 1993s, three 1997s, four 2000s, two 2002s, three 2004s, two 2005s, one 2006, two 2007s, one 2008 and one 2009 model.

The largest buses can hold up to 84 passengers.

Five of the six special services buses have lifts for students in wheelchairs.

The district fleet provides transportation services to about 1,000 students on 30 runs - including the morning, mid-day kindergarten, special needs and afternoon routes - that go throughout the Sequim-Dungeness valley and hillsides.

During the school year, the department's day starts around 5:30 a.m. when early dispatcher Bob Young checks his phone messages in the office. Gossage arrives around 6:30 a.m., followed by the drivers. Drivers do pre-trip bus safety checks that take about seven to 10 minutes prior to leaving the facility. The last bus rolls out of the facility about 7:20 a.m.

Seven drivers return mid-day to take morning kindergarten students home and then pick up and deliver afternoon kindergarten students to school.

Gossage says they have four main goals in the transportation department in addition to a 100-percent vehicle safety inspection record. These include: 1) lowering maintenance costs; 2) working toward having all buses in the fleet on the state depreciation schedule so the district does not have to spend general fund dollars to purchase new buses; 3) having all buses equipped with anti-lock brakes; and 4) reducing the fleet's carbon footprint by producing fewer emissions.

In recent years, the district replaced older gas- and propane-powered buses with diesel fueled ones - now 30 of the 32 in the fleet.

Sixteen of the 32 buses in the fleet have anti-lock brakes. Those buses older than 1998 do not come equipped with anti-lock brakes, so a district goal to replace 15 more still remains.

The transportation department used about 35,000 gallons of fuel last year. Making improvements and upgrades to the late 1980s model buses and motors, such as adding catalytic mufflers and breather filters through the Olympic Region Clean Air Act, has reduced the district's carbon footprint.

The transportation supervisor also places the older buses on the shorter routes to reduce wear and maintenance costs.

Gossage reclaims or salvages parts from decommissioned buses to help keep costs down. He says the district has a financial and safety incentive to disable old vehicles to salvage parts and then scrap the metal to keep maintenance costs at a minimum.

A challenge the Sequim School District faces in the coming years involves a safe, yet aging fleet with buses coming off the state depreciation schedule. What this means to the district and community will appear next in a series of articles about the business of operating Sequim's public schools.

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