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Monday August 20th, 2018 8:11PM

Habersham County rolling out 20 new school buses

By Rob Moore Reporter

DEMOREST — Thanks to the county’s education sales tax, Habersham County is replacing a number of its oldest school buses.

On Monday, system officials were joined by Ken Lane, general manager of Thomas Bus Sales of Georgia; Shane Mayfield, Thomas Bus account manager; and Ronnie Cobb, Southeast District service manager for Thomas Built Buses Inc., in High Point, N.C., to roll out new 2018 Thomas buses.

The school system recently accepted delivery of 16 conventional 72-passenger buses and four 48-passenger special needs buses.

“Let’s just start with the importance of transportation,” Habersham County School Superintendent Matthew Cooper told AccessWDUN. “The school day, for children, begins when they get on that school bus bright and early in the morning.”

The new buses contain the latest technology, including numerous safety features. Those features include wig-wag headlights that flash when the stop arms are activated, dual stop signs, reflective markings on the bumpers, hoods over the eight-way flashing top lights, all LED lights, and more.

“We sure try” to make the buses as safe as possible, said Habersham County School System Pupil Transportation Director Tim Dockery.

The four special needs buses contain integrated child safety seats with five-point harnesses, and also include air conditioning.

“As our community knows, we take great pride in our facilities here in Habersham County,” Cooper said. “As superintendent, I consider this really a part of our facilities. Our children spend a lot of time on these buses in the morning and the afternoons. We want them to ride on a school bus that is not only safe, but that looks good. And boy as we’re standing here right now looking at these brand new 2018 buses, they’re sharp.”

Total cost for the new buses is $1,769,444. Each 72-passenger bus costs $86,456, while each special needs bus costs $96,537.

Habersham County Transportation Coordinator Stephanie Walker said she is hopeful seeing the new buses in the fleet will encourage more people to sign up to be school bus drivers.

Walker said the new buses will replace some buses that are more than 25 years old. Most of the buses replaced will be declared surplus and sold at auction, while one of two may be used to train local emergency responders.

“We have two 1991 buses that will be surplus and that’s probably the oldest ones we’ve run during the school year,” Walker said. “And ‘92s, a few ‘94s, ‘96, ‘97, those kind of numbers, and it is based on the exact situation with that particular bus. If it’s costing a lot of maintenance or it’s not being cost effective to run, then we need to replace it with something else.”

Walker said the county’s school bus fleet contains about 145 buses and after the surplus sales will remain at about that level.

Cooper and the transportation staff do not take for granted the funding source for the new buses.

“We need to thank our community for supporting ESPLOST,” Cooper said. “The State of Georgia gives us enough money to buy less than one school bus, so it’s so important that we have that ESPLOST renewed each five years so that we can have nice school buses for our boys and girls.”

System officials said a few of the buses will be placed into service immediately because of urgent need, but most will take to the roads in August.

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