Naperville’s top-notch maintenance team comprises (clockwise from top left) Wayne Hubbs, Bill Bell, Bryan Gnat, Tom Pelletier and Juan Gutierrez.
Shop passes many tests
Naperville Community Unit School District 203
For evidence that the Naperville Community Unit School District’s bus maintenance team is at the top of its game, Fleet Maintenance Manager Tom Pelletier points to spare buses.
Two years ago, the fleet of about 130 school buses had only two spare units to work with — and one of them was going out on a half route — so there was little room for error. But the shop crew kept the operation running smoothly through the school year.
“That says something about the technicians in the garage and our maintenance program, when you only have two spares,” Pelletier says.
The team’s maintenance work also proved itself on a winter morning a few years ago when the temperature sank to an uncommon low of minus 12. Early that morning, Naperville’s superintendent told Pelletier that other districts in the region were calling and saying that their buses wouldn’t start.
But even though Naperville doesn’t have electrical outlets to plug its fleet engine block heaters into, the buses all started on time for their routes, with only a few having to be jump-started.
“We were practically the only school district in the northern half of the state in school that day,” Pelletier says.
He attributes the success to a top-notch preventive maintenance (PM) program, procedures for testing and repairing the bus’ charging systems, and vehicle specifications and oil viscosity chosen carefully for the area and its climate.
The summer before that frigid morning, Naperville had changed its engine oil down to 10W-30, which allowed the engines to crank faster in the cold. “It’s still a heavy-duty oil, but it’s good to about 30 below,” Pelletier notes.
In spec’ing buses, Pelletier opts for three batteries. “In winter, battery capacity goes down, so the third battery helps when it gets cold,” he says.
As part of the Naperville shop’s electrical program, the technicians keep a close eye on the batteries. “We check out batteries. Don’t just jump it and let it go. Bring it back in — let’s see what caused it,” Pelletier says.
Alternators are replaced only after checking the batteries. “The alternator is not designed to charge the battery,” Pelletier notes.
For its PM program, Naperville has a 93-point inspection sheet. Every line item has to be initialed by a technician. The PMs are done at certain mileage or time intervals. Typically, the buses come in twice a year. One of the key goals is to make sure that all of the components will last until the next PM.
“If the brakes aren’t going to last six months, we’ll replace them,” Pelletier says. This reduces breakdowns and service calls.
One way the Naperville shop keeps costs down is by constantly testing products to see what will work the best and last the longest, from tires to batteries to video camera systems. About three years ago, the operation began putting LEDs on its buses and has since seen a drastic reduction in the number of problems that come up with clearance lights.
In Illinois, school buses undergo twice-annual state inspections that are scheduled and can be prepared for. But “the real test,” Pelletier says, is every two or three years when the state inspectors show up for surprise visits and go through every bus in the fleet. In the nine years Pelletier has been with Naperville, there have been three of those unexpected inspections, and, he says, “They left all three times without red-tagging any of our units.”
— THOMAS MCMAHON
Fleet: 136 school buses, 30 other vehicles
Total shop staff: 6
Number of bus bays: 4
Annual mileage: 1,210,000
Students transported: 13,000
Schools served: 28