A school district in suburban Dallas has found a way to save money by turning its oldest buses into its newest. Mike Williams, transportation director at Rockwall Independent School District, received delivery earlier this year of a refurbished 1987 Ward 71-passenger school bus, one that had been destined for the scrap heap. Williams says the bus was rebuilt bottom to top for $30,000 by Lear Siegler Services Inc. in New Boston, Texas. "I gave them an old ragged bus that we would have otherwise sold for scrap, and they replaced the floor, seats, engine, drivetrain, the whole bus, really, with new or rebuilt parts," he says. "It's a neat program." Bumper-to-bumper rebuild
Under Lear Siegler's School Bus Refurbishment Program, buses are restored by ASE-certified mechanics who strip the vehicle to its frame and rebuild it piece by piece. In the process, they also bring the buses up to current standards by adding white roofs, stop arms and tinted windows. The refurbished bus, which was towed to the Lear Siegler facility from the Rockwall bus compound, was put into route service in the spring and is being closely monitored. "So far it looks pretty good," Williams says, adding that he'll make monthly progress reports to the school board. He expects the refurbished bus to last from five to eight years and to deliver up to 200,000 miles. By restoring instead of retiring buses, Williams says he is saving about $30,000, the difference between the refurbishing cost and the cost of a new bus. This year he plans to have two to three more buses refurbished, depending on the program's success. New buses are not entirely out of the picture, however. Refurbishing older buses will help to keep the fleet size at its current level, but Williams says new buses will be procured to help handle the district's rapidly expanding enrollment, which he says is growing by 7 percent annually. Cost can vary widely
Lear Siegler officials say the cost of a refurbishment can run from $20,000 to $40,000 and typically takes six to eight weeks. The lower range is generally for small special-needs buses; the higher range is for large buses that need the full treatment, including replacing a gasoline engine with a diesel powerplant. Each bus is evaluated by a Lear Siegler manager to determine what's needed to return the bus to service. Following the evaluation, a menu-style listing of refurbishing options and a production schedule are provided to customers based on parts availability and procurement lead times. The warranty contract is included in the total cost, says Jennifer Head, warranty administrator. There's a standard three-year warranty on paint and corrosion. Warranties for parts and labor on engines and transmissions vary depending on the make and model of the individual bus. Head says Lear Siegler performed about 20 school bus refurbishings in 2001, but it can handle a much larger volume in its 10-bay, 38,000-square-foot facility. Several school districts in Texas have dropped off buses for repair and refurbishment. One district in Louisiana had 10 buses restored, she says. For more information about Lear Siegler's refurbishment program, call (866) 937-3227.