The Halifax County School Board plans to replace the entire fleet of buses by 2031.

The debate is still on concerning which type of school buses — propane or diesel — but that didn’t stop the Halifax County School Board from proceeding Monday night with review of a plan to lease or purchase enough buses to replace the entire fleet by 2031.

Dwight Elam, transportation director, said he anticipates 10 buses to be replaced each year between now and 2031.

In FY19-20 the school board has been able to lease/purchase nine buses, plus buy two additional buses, and Robert Aylor, interim finance director, has recommended nine buses be leased or purchased each year going forward.

Currently $365,292 is in the budget for replacement buses, but by FY 21-22 Aylor said the school board will need $420,546 to stay on schedule.

He said the most cost effective plan is to lease or purchase buses over a seven-year period with a projected interest rate of 3.04%.

Aylor referred to the plan as a “goal,” and he said the board needed no vote on the schedule, but he added he would include it in the request for proposal.

Prior to Aylor’s report, Elam also presented a school bus replacement schedule following a presentation from three transportation vendors who met with members earlier at a 5 p.m. worksession held prior to the 6:30 p.m. school board meeting.

School Board members ED-1 Trustee Orey Hill, ED-2 Trustee Roy Keith Lloyd and ED-5 Trustee Freddie Edmunds did not attend the 5 p.m. work session. Hill and Lloyd were present for the 6:30 meeting.

The three transportation vendors who gave their pitch to the board were Kingmor Supply, Inc., Thomas Built Buses, Inc. and Bluebird Bus Sales of Virginia, who also brought representatives from AmeriGas.

Mark Schmitt Sr., president, Mark Schmitt Jr., vice president, and Greg McCalmon, corporate sales manager, spoke on behalf of Bluebird pushing for the use of more propane buses due to the buses offering cost savings in maintenance and fuel costs, lower emissions in a school bus, less noise and better cold weather performance.

They said the buses start in as low as -40 degree weather, eliminating the need for a long warm up.

“Propane is the future of transportation,” said Schmitt Sr.

The propane buses also eliminate several bus parts found in diesel buses, according to Schmitt Jr., who said they do not have the charged air cooler, EGR cooler, EGR valve, turbo charger, dosing unit, pre-oxidation catalyst, dosing module, DEF tank and more.

Compared to diesel buses, which Schmitt Jr. said takes anywhere from 17 to 30 quarts of oil, he said gas and propane buses take only seven quarts.

He also said one bus could save more than $4,000 a year and more than $61,000 over the lifetime of the bus.

AmeriGas also offered the school system propane for $1.02 per gallon.

ED-7 Trustee Monty Lowery asked whether AmeriGas was putting that offer on the table to the school board Monday evening, and the representatives from the company said they were.

He told the board it looked like “savings all around.”

Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg asked if they could contractually guarantee these savings, and Schmitt Sr. said they can do that.

“We’re not here to just sell a bus, we’re here for the long haul,” said Schmitt Sr.

They also said their company offers mobile technicians who will come to Halifax to work on the bus as well as train the mechanics at the bus shop. They also offered a five-year unlimited mile warranty.

Kingmor Supply, Inc. and Thomas Built Buses, Inc. also offered mobile on site technicians who would train local mechanics, eliminating the need for towing the bus to their shop, but they had a different take on which type of bus was preferred.

“It’s really the fleet’s choice,” said a representative with Kingmor Supply, Inc.

He explained that diesel buses run better on shorter routes that have a lot of stops where as propane buses are better for longer routes. He also said they offer a gasoline bus with a V8 engine that can hold anywhere from 35 to 78 passengers.

Kingmor Supply, Inc. also offers a seven-year unlimited mileage transmission and five-year unlimited engine as well as five-year unlimited bumper to bumper guarantee.

“Whatever we can do to help you maintain our product. You don’t buy a bus to have it sit. You buy a bus to transport kids from point A to point B, and that is our number one priority,” said the representative.

There are 21 Kingmor Supply, Inc. service locations in Virginia. Any International dealer can work on their buses, he added.

Thomas Built Buses, Inc. offers propane, diesel and electric buses, and their representatives said while propane was the leader in transportation, now, the picture is not so clear.

He explained all the buses release emissions and that diesel buses are “light years” ahead from where they used to be.

The representatives said they still pushed for the use of “clean diesel.”

But, they admitted they do cost more to maintain.

They also said there is no “secondary” market for propane buses after they use their lifespan at the schools whereas the diesel buses can be traded in.

Thomas Built Buses representatives also said it takes twice the repair time for propane buses.

They called the push for propane buses a “knee jerk reaction” to emissions.

Following their presentations, the school board met in their regular board meeting where Elam explained diesel buses have extended travel range and average about seven miles to the gallon.

But they have higher fuel costs, require DEF fluid and particular filters that have to be cleaned periodically or replaced.

He compared diesel to propane buses that have reduced emissions, reduced cost per gallon, possible grant funding and require no after treatment.

However, he said propane buses get roughly four miles to the gallon and require dedicated fueling sites.

They currently have fueling sites at Sydnor Jennings Elementary School and Cluster Springs Elementary School with Foster Fuels, but if more propane buses are purchased, he said they’re looking also to place them at Scottsburg Elementary.

Referring to their current fleet of diesel and propane buses, Elam said the diesel buses cost roughly 39 cents per mile to operate, while propane buses cost 58 cents per mile.

He told the school board the last diesel bus they purchased cost $82,000, and that propane buses are $6,000 to $8,000 more expensive than diesel.

The transportation director also said a similar replacement schedule needs to be made for the SPED car fleet.

Answering a question from Chairman Joe Gasperini, Elam said no current rebate is available for propane, but it could be in the near future due to a settlement between the Environmental Protection Agency and Volkswagen.

Lowery continued to push for propane buses that he said cost around $26,000 less in maintenance, repair and fuel, and he suggested the vendors need to price based off the board’s own specifications and standards.

“We’re talking about an astronomical purchase,” said Lowery, who added they need to be comparing “apples to apples,” or else they’re wasting their time. He also argued there is plenty of room to bargain with these companies.

The board then appointed Lowery and ED-6 Trustee Todd Moser to serve on a committee to help set the specifications for the buses.

Ashley Hodge reports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com

Ashley Hodge is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com