Update, Sept. 26: The school board approved the project Monday.
It can take a school bus driver more than an hour to wash a bus, but with the help of machines, it may soon take only about a minute.
On Monday, the Hall County school board will vote on whether to install a $230,000 drive-thru bus wash at the school district’s bus depot.
“We need to keep the buses as clean as we can,” said school board chairman Craig Herrington. “And this will take manpower off of having to have people wash the buses.”
Herrington expects the board to approve the purchase at Monday’s meeting.
The drive-thru wash — developed by a company called InterClean — is a “touchless” system without brushes, which can cause damage. The system uses a combination of sprayers and nozzles to blast away dirt and grime.
The system will be built inside a bus bay at the farthest end of the transportation department.
Transportation Director Clay Hobbs got the idea at a Georgia Association of Pupil Transportation conference, where InterClean had a trade booth.
Later, he watched videos on YouTube of the wash in action, took note of the school district names on the side of the buses, called those school districts in Washington, Indiana and West Virginia and asked if they were pleased with the systems.
“I didn’t talk to a single person that was not happy with the equipment,” Hobbs said.
He said it would take a little more than a minute to wash a bus with the new system, and he estimates it would cost about $2.56 per wash.
That is far lower than the $75 they sometimes pay a man to wash each bus.
The automatic wash isn’t quite as good as a hand wash, Hobbs said, so they’ll have that man wash the buses thoroughly, and then maintain them by running them through the automatic wash as part of the monthly inspections.
“We have a lot of drivers that take a lot of pride in the way their bus looks,” he said. “There are some drivers that pay people to wash the outside of their bus, and so this would prevent all of that.”
If approved, Hobbs expects the bus wash to be ready before the start of the new year.
The bus wash is part of the school system’s efforts at maintaining its fleet of about 375 buses, as well as making the job easier for current drivers and more attractive for prospective ones.
In November, the district spent about $1 million on 10 propane buses, which are meant to be greener and more cost efficient.
Hall County Schools has dealt with a driver shortage for the better part of three years, with some 27 open positions before the start of the school year. As part of this year’s budget, the school board approved a 20% pay raise for drivers and saw a flood of applications after a TV news outlet falsely reported that bus drivers earn more than teachers.