Gainesville school board members Wednesday approved the purchase of five brand new Bluebird buses to replace some of the buses damaged in a May 22 fire.
Nine buses were damaged in the bus fire, which seems to have been sparked from wiring problems on one bus, said school board Chairman David Syfan.
The burned buses made up about 20 percent of the Gainesville system’s fleet. Thirty-eight buses were in good condition following the fire.
Jerry Castleberry, transportation director for Gainesville schools, said seven 72-passenger buses and two 90-passenger buses were lost in the blaze.
On Monday, the board approved the purchase of five 72-passenger buses from Forsyth County Schools for $8,000 each. Castleberry said those buses are 1997 and 1998 models.
He said the additional five 72-passenger buses approved for purchase Wednesday are 2010 models and will cost the system $378,000. The new models will be purchased through Yancey Bus Sales & Service of Macon.
"They wanted to purchase the new buses because of the age of our fleet," Castleberry said.
He said the board chose to purchase 72-passenger buses because it would take seven months for bus companies to deliver a 90-passenger bus to the system. All 10 of the buses purchased this week will be available for system use by August, Castleberry said.
The school system’s insurance company is offering $229,119 for the eight buses destroyed and one bus partially damaged in the bus yard fire, said Gainesville schools financial officer Janet Allison.
Allison said the school system’s books indicate the nine vehicles were worth $226,558.
The district will enter into a lease purchase agreement and will be paying a substantial down payment on the buses using the proceeds of the insurance settlement from the fire, Allison said.
She said the balance will be paid over time and the down payment likely will be paid in July and the next payment will not be due until July or August of 2011.
Allison said the system will negotiate the terms of the lease purchase agreement in the next few weeks.
Syfan asked Yancey Bus Sales & Service Senior Account Manager Shooter Roberts at Wednesday’s called board meeting if the Bluebird company has experienced similar wiring problems on other vehicles.
Roberts said Bluebird assures the quality and safety of buses when they are delivered to school systems, but cannot guarantee systems’ bus maintenance work that occurs after years of use.
"This was obviously a result of something that happened over time over a number of years," Shooter said of the Gainesville bus fire.
Syfan also asked Castleberry to review the school system’s options regarding the placement of buses. Syfan asked the transportation director to consider whether buses could be better positioned to prevent the spread of fire from one bus to another.