Electric buses and charging stations were the big discussion at the Sidney Schools Board of Education meeting on Jan. 17.
Sidney was one of the 13 Iowa school recipients of the EPA’s Clean School Bus Rebate Program who received funds last fall enabling the district to purchase three electric school buses.
Transportation Director Tim Lemrick was thrilled to relay his trip to High Point, North Carolina, compliments of Thomas Built Buses, Inc., to visit the Thomas Built Buses plant and see electric buses being built first hand.
“Thanks to the school board for allowing me to take the trip,” he said. “It was all very interesting and so very unique to watch those buses being built. They have two plants, and there is a lot of automation on their components, but still literally hand built.”
Lemrick described the process of the buses being created and said, “I was literally walking through the plant and seeing the buses being made. There was a lot of automation, but there were also people working at the stations.”
People are also reading…
At the end of the tour, Lemrick was given a chance to drive one of the electric buses similar to what Sidney will be receiving.
“I enjoyed the opportunity,” he said. “I really looked the bus over and I think it’s going to work great for us. They have a 130-mile range in optimal conditions. Our farthest route is 70 miles when it runs everything. We will be able to run the routes morning and afternoon and then charge overnight.”
Lemrick said that Sidney’s buses are ordered, in line to be built and should arrive by the end of July. He added that there will be training involved when the new vehicles arrive.
Lemrick has also been busy researching many DC charging stations and found that there is a wide variety of chargers and a differing price range. He said that a DC charger is bigger, faster and has the converter inside the charger itself so there is no need for conversion.
“As I was going through bids, one that came up was Proterra Energy. Thomas Buses use Proterra batteries and that is one reason they recommend the Proterra charger,” Lemrick said. “This charger is very compatible. It has a large main electrical box and has a charging island. That particular bid was $67,000, just over our budget. We are allotted, with the three buses, a total of $60,000 for our grant money.”
The advantage of a Proterra system is its high power capabilities, thus faster charging, the vehicle-to-grid power flow (V2G), and they are considered to be “future proof.”
Lemrick said that one thing he was concerned with is the software that controls the chargers.
“It’s cloud based and costs $1,200 per year for each unit. So, it would be an additional $10,800 for three years, just for the software piece,” he said. “So, I set Proterra Energy to the side and looked at a 30-watt charger option called InCharge. It is a smaller box and charges a maximum of 30 watts, which will charge a bus in about 4 ½ hours from 0 to 90%. It does what is called sequential charging, so there is plenty of time to do that overnight. We could charge all of them overnight or one during the day and two overnight. They are not vehicle-to-grid. The software fee is a lot less at only $1,200 per year. With shipping and everything, this bid came in at $55,000. That leaves us with $5,000 to use toward updating our infrastructure, which would be our next step.”
Lemrick talked to a company about the infrastructure and how best to get the power safely brought into the bus building and make the necessary conversions.
“I also talked to Miller Electric, and they went ahead and put together a proposal for the boxes, conduit, switching mechanisms and safety switches,” he said. “Their bid was about $36,612 for the InCharge. For the Proterra, the cost would jump up about $6,000.”
Lemrick said he talked to the transportation director at Logan Magnolia schools, who is also receiving busses, in hopes together they would get better representation and better prices on installation and components. So far, he hasn’t had luck in that regard.
“So do we look to the future and go vehicle-to-grid and fast charging or do we go with 30 amp chargers that are adequate for our buses? I would lean toward the lower priced, lower capacity chargers at this time until we see how it works,” Lemrick said.
He said there is a possibility of doing a combination of the two as well.
The board commended Lemrick for the impressive work he’s done thus far and said they will trust his judgment in the decision that he makes.
On a different note, Lemrick reported that the radios from a grant received last September have arrived.
“I talked to Radio Engineering about getting them installed, and it’ll just be a standard bracket, wires and antennae. They will easily move to our new buses when they come in,” he said. “They don’t have to be on every bus, but we’ll definitely want them on our most active routes.”
Lemrick said that between the time he applied for the grant and it was approved, the prices of the radios increased $2,084 by the time they were ordered. He is going to talk to the grant manager to see if the extra cost could be absorbed into the grant money and will report back to the board.
In conclusion, Lemrick told the board that they are short one driver and would like to have further conversations about putting out an advertisement to garner interest in substitute bus drivers.
Trisha Glockel, board secretary, presented a review of the financial report.
“I wanted to point out that we did have some payments that needed to be cleaned up for Boyd Jones, and it will take approximately $100,000 out of our bond fund,” she said. “Boyd Jones says this will take care of everything for them; it is the residual retainer that we held back. Other than that, there wasn’t anything noteworthy.
“There was a very large purchase of $11,000 for a lift in automotive, but that is being paid for by a Perkins Grant, and the big purchase to Motorola was our radio grant. Both are covered expenses.”
All bills were approved, except for the retainage to Boyd Jones. Board members wanted to make sure everything is taken care of to the board’s satisfaction before the payment is made to Boyd Jones, so Hood recommended board members go over line by line with a Boyd Jones representative first.
Superintendent Hood gave a brief update to the stadium renovations.
“The trees are gone and the seats on the old side are gone,” he said. “Next thing, we will be taking out the walkway and put the retaining wall in. Now, we wait for the weather to improve so we can get the pad down. We are waiting on bids for concrete and will do some quotes on other areas to keep this thing moving.”
He also wanted to give a huge thank you to the board members and staff who have helped in the cleanup and restoration at the elementary building.
Shannon Wehling, PK-6 principal, informed the board that students and staff have acclimated very well after changes and new routines were made due to the Dec. 26 water leak/burst pipe.
“We are still using the Pre-K door as our main entrance and will continue to do that for at least a little bit. Again, a huge thank you to the board, John and custodial crew, Amber and staff, it’s been amazing,” Wehling said. “They worked a lot of long hours. We are all happy to be back.”
Wehling said that winter FAST assessments opened on Jan. 2 and will remain open until Feb. 3.
“Because of our delayed start, it’s going to a fast and furious testing within the window and we want to make sure we get them right,” she said.
Future dates for the elementary include a staff professional development day scheduled for Feb. 17, a no school day on Presidents Day (Feb. 20), an honor choir opportunity coming up for fifth and sixth graders, and a career fair for the sixth graders.
Kim Payne, junior high/high school principal, said her building is also working on FAST testing, with literacy work this week and math for the seventh and eighth grade the following week.
“Our upcoming dates include professional development for staff in Malvern,” Payne said. “In the morning we have a guest speaker, and in the afternoon we will meet with our Corner Conference curriculum groups. We will be having our Career Fair, too, and I am pleased to let you guys know that Jay Moore will be our keynote speaker. Our goal is to try to get 25 presenters so we’ve been working on that with our building leadership team.”
Payne also told board members that Athletic Director Aaron Lang is working on obtaining sponsorships.
“Aaron has a meeting set up for Tuesday, Jan. 31 out here at 4:30 (p.m.) and is trying to get a new scoreboard for the gym and football field, with video. Hopefully we can get enough sponsors to have video on both,” she said.
John Schrek, head of maintenance, told the board that as far as the water main break, he was impressed with the communication throughout the ordeal.
“We learned a lot through the process, and it really could have been a lot worse,” he said. “We were very fortunate that our water was retained and didn’t run through the whole school. Right now we are working on sheetrock, painting, putting ceiling tiles back together, etc. There was a lot of support and everyone is working together. I’m very thankful for the staff and administration.”
Schrek also talked to the board about adding additional insulation and his concern that the pipes aren’t suited for extreme cold. He wants to take measures to prevent further damages or another catastrophic loss and added that there is still discovery going on and more to do, but wants to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
In other business, the board approved Board Policies 403.6 to 414 and a resolution authorizing the retention of boundaries for Sidney CSD.
“Every time there is a census, there is a redistricting plan for school districts due to their board members and where they live because of voting,” Hood said. “But, you are all at-large, so there are no changes.”
The purchase of the electric buses was approved; however, the purchase of the charging stations was tabled until the next meeting.
Board members approved two fundraising requests, one from FFA for a Donkey Basketball event and a fundraiser for the elementary Partners in Education.
Board members also approved the resignation of Amy McClintock as head high school and head junior high volleyball coach and approved the hiring of Chase Wallace, Elementary Skills Club tutor; Tamera Vaill, Jr./Sr. High School associate; and Lucas Clark, evening custodian.
For board communication, Board President Renee Johnson thanked Hood for all the hours he put into the cleanup and restoration of the elementary building and for Wehling’s flexibility within the building. She also thanked Lemrick for the huge endeavor he has taken on with the electric buses.
Randy Albright, board secretary, shared school celebrations.
“Seth Ettleman earned his 100th career win in wrestling this last weekend,” Albright said. “Congratulations to Seth! Congratulations to our students who made our honor roll in the first semester. They are posted on Facebook and our website.
“Several art students participated in the National Celebrating Art contest and five students were selected for publication in the Fall Celebrating Art book. Not all who compete are selected and the students compete against students from across the country. Winners were Abby Briley, Jazlyn Alvarez, Braelyn Wilson, Lauren Inman and Ellah Pummel so congratulations to them.”
The next meeting of the Sidney School Board will be held Feb. 13.