The Superior School District and city of Superior are parting ways. For nearly four decades, district buses have been parked and maintained at the city's Municipal Service Building, 2301 Hill Ave.
A new contract offered by the city, which would cost the district more than $6,000 per month, spurred the decision to relocate the fleet.
District Administrator Janna Stevens said the buses currently parked at the city garage will make the move to Fabick Cat, on Moccasin Mike Road, over winter break. As of Wednesday, 14 buses were parked outside the bus garage and one was parked inside.
As for the rest of the district's fleet of 37, the majority are spread throughout the district.
"Most of the buses are actually at drivers' homes," Stevens said.
The fleet may be thinned. The district will use the move to evaluate spare buses that aren't used on a regular basis, according to Chad Jensema, director of transportation.
Stevens said the need for a major remodel at the garage led to the new contract offer by the city — a 10-year lease charging the district $6,250 per month rent. In addition, Stevens said, the city was requiring the district to take responsibility for hiring and supervising mechanics for the bus garage.
The district now pays the salary and benefits for two city mechanics who work on the buses and utilities for the facility, but no rent.
"It was the intention of the city to work into an agreement that would keep the district in the bus maintenance facility while not creating further burden on the city budget," said city Public Works Director Todd Janigo.
The bus maintenance facility was added to the city's Municipal Service Building in 1978. The approximately 6,800-square-feet facility includes five service bays, office space, a break room and bathroom. When it was initially constructed, the school district was to pay 70 percent of the cost of construction over seven years.
The most recent agreement between the city and school district dates back to 2001. Other than the initial 70 percent payback, Janigo said, the district has not paid any lease, rent or capital improvement funding for the use of the building in 39 years.
There has been no capital investment in the building since 1978, according to Janigo. A 2016 facilities assessment showed significant improvements were needed at the municipal service building, including the bus garage, over the next 10 years for it to remain in a safe, operational condition.
With the end of the city-school district agreement, Janigo said the mechanics servicing the buses will be moved to fill vacancies working with city equipment.
The bus garage will be used to serve the needs of other city departments, he said, although specific options are still being evaluated.
Fabick Cat already does some service work on district buses, Stevens said. The business has room in its lot and plug-ins for the buses, although there will be no garage space available.
Fabick Cat will not charge anything for the district to park in its lot, but there will be a flat fee for servicing vehicles. Stevens said the company is putting together a maintenance calendar to maintain the fleet, utilizing its own mechanics.
If a bus breaks down on its route, Fabick Cat has offered to tow it to the Moccasin Mike site and bring a spare bus to the driver.
"They're actually giving us a higher level of service than we had before," Stevens said, at a significant savings over the city's proposed lease.
The agreement with Fabick Cat runs through June 30, 2019. At that point, the district and business can evaluate how their partnership is working.
The decision to move to Fabick Cat was addressed as an informational item at last week's School Board Committee of the Whole meeting. The need for additional bus drivers was also stressed.
"We certainly have a great group of drivers right now," Jensema said, but additional help is needed to address recent retirements.
It takes six weeks to train a bus driver, the board was told, and support staff can't step up to fill that seat.
"I certainly encourage anybody interested in learning more about bus driving to call and find out the steps it takes to be a driver," Jensema said.
For information, call (715) 394-8700 and ask for human resources or the transportation department.