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School-town shared maintenance again an issue

Committee members take a bus maintenance field trip to Wolfeboro

by Thomas Beeler
Editor of The Granite State News
October 18, 2012
WAKEFIELD — At their Sept. 26 meeting Wakefield selectmen agreed to run a pilot program with the Wakefield School Board where basic maintenance on school buses would be performed by a new mechanic to be hired by the Wakefield Highway Department.

The shared mechanic program is scheduled to begin in January. The School Board already parks its 15 buses next to the highway garage and last year spent $75,000 on oil and tire changes, jump starts and light bulb replacement. Half of that cost was for labor, according to School Board member Judy Nason, who hopes a shared mechanic will be able to reduce that cost and save the taxpayers money.

At the Oct. 10 selectmen's meeting former selectman and current planning board member Johnny Blackwood criticized the proposed shared maintenance arrangement during public comment. "You should keep the town and school separate," he said to selectmen. "You were hasty in agreeing to try it out." He pointed out that having a bus in the shop for maintenance could block access for one of the town dump trucks. "It could be a can of worms. I can see it mushrooming."

Selectman Charlie Edwards said he thinks that keeping the services limited to oil changes, light bulb replacement and such will prevent the arrangement from getting out of hand. "If we go beyond oil changes we would need to expand the facility. I don't want to see the town taking responsibility for inspections and transmission work."

Selectman Peter Kasprzyk said the town is planning to build a new salt shed with overhangs on each side to park equipment, reducing the need to park vehicles in the garage. "The idea was to replace Rusty [Loring, former mechanic] and be able to take care of our own equipment. The deal with the school will help pay for that." He emphasized the arrangement with the school was a pilot program, where the town will keep track of the hours involved and evaluate whether it should be continued. "If it looks like it won't pay off, we won't do it," he said.

Blackwood responded that there should be no extra time to work on school buses. "I can show you places in town that need to be ditched. There's plenty of work."

James Blackwood said that Mack buses require a $75,000 computer to reset oil change lights. "You also have to have a computer to diagnose electronic engines," he said.

Johnny Blackwood said DiPrizio has the right equipment and can make sure the job is done right. "They won't take shortcuts," he said.

Kasprzyk pointed out that taking the buses back and forth to DiPrizio takes both time and gas for work that is not complicated.

School Board member Judy Nason announced that the Joint Maintenance Committee has scheduled a trip on Fridya to the Governor Wentworth Regional School District garage in Wolfeboro to see how they do their bus maintenance and what kinds of work they do in-house. "Everyone's trying to lower their budgets. We shouldn't be thinking the town is the town and the school is the school. The taxpayers pay both. We should share as much as possible if money can be saved."

Wolfeboro trip

On Friday morning, Oct. 12, the Joint Maintenance Committee, consisting of Nason, fellow School Board member Steve Brown, SAU 64 Business Administrator Andrew D'Agostino, Transportation Director Tim Eldridge, and Town Administrator Teresa Williams met at the Governor Wentworth Regional School District office in Wolfeboro with Maintenance Supervisor Norm Breton and Transportation Director Maryann Belanger.

Breton. Who has 34 years of experience maintaining school buses, said the district does its own tire changes, brakes, oil changes, inspections and bulb changes. Lights are fixed daily using work orders, but many times they are changed on the spot when first reported.

As for the cost of what Breton calls a scan tool a computer that reads the diagnostic codes in buses, "it's a couple thousand, plus the cost of software updates." Resetting the oil change light does not require a computer, he said: it can be done after service by pressing a key sequence.

As for servicing buses, Breton said buses are basically a truck with a bus body. He does not consider them difficult to maintain. He showed the committee his service board which keeps track of all 40 buses plus the small vans and shows when they were last serviced, what was done, when the next service is due, and what type of oil is being used. Oil is changed every 6,000 miles (though circumstances might push that to 8,000)and oil levels are checked every 3,000 miles. Buses with Cummins engines take 18 quarts of oil and Mercedes engines take 32 quarts. Breton said the newer Cummins engines are better than the older Mercedes. Eldridge said Wakefield has two Mercedes-powered buses and 13 Cummins buses.

An oil service takes about two hours because it also involves checking brakes and lubrication, among other items on a service checklist.

Breton said his shop does not do much "big stuff." Newer buses under warranty are sent to the dealer, W.C. Cressey & Son in Kennebunk, Maine. They also use Alison Detroit and Freightliner in Portland.

The Governor Wentworth Regional School District has a part time mechanic who will do some major jobs, such as work on transmissions or as was seen during the visit do body work.

Tires are purchased at the state contract discount from GCR Tire in Manchester and most parts are purchased locally, though bus-specific light units are purchased from the bus dealer and stocked at the garage to avoid delays.

Breton said the buses are inspected by his staff twice a year and the state does its own inspections in the yard once a year "to keep us honest." Inspectors have to be certified by the state. Inspection standards are higher for buses and faults that would pass in a car would not pass for a truck. Citations for violations are stricter too.

Mechanics who work on buses "should be certified as a bus driver." He said his rule of thumb for number of mechanics is one mechanic for 18 buses. Counting himself, Breton said the Governor Wentworth District has two mechanics and one part time mechanic for major work.

The last subject covered was tracking buses via Global Positioning System (GPS) using a Transfinder system, which Belanger demonstrated.

The committee thanked Breton and Belanger and the district for sharing their knowledge with Wakefield.

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