School officials look for less costly site to park buses
Published 11:58 am, Thursday, April 26, 2012
Pushing ahead with efforts to reduce non-classroom expenditures, the Board of Education is seeking to find a less costly place to park its school buses.
DATTCO Inc., the school district's New Britain-based transportation provider, pays about $250,000 each year in rent to house most of Westport's school bus fleet on a privately owned lot adjacent to a Mobil gas and service station on Post Road East. But DATTCO passes that cost on to the town.
School board members, however, hope to reduce spending on bus parking. Last month, they formed a subcommittee to explore less costly parking options. Board members Elaine Whitney and Mark Mathias were appointed to the new panel.
"We're trying to find cost-savings and efficiencies that don't have an impact on the classroom wherever we possibly can," Whitney said.
The Westport school district has a 56-bus fleet. Forty-six buses are usuually parked overnight and during the school day at the Post Road lot, while 10 are parked at a DATTCO yard in Bridgeport. Up to 12 buses are also parked during the day at an Imperial Avenue parking lot near the Westport Public Library.
Board of Education members have identified Staples High School as one of the most viable alternative locations for the district's buses. Four lots on the Staples campus, totaling about 62,000 square feet, could be used for bus parking. The Staples campus could also hold an underground diesel fuel tank to service the buses.
If school bus parking were relocated to Staples, the district's buses would be parked during the day at several other town-owned venues such as other school properties, Whitney said.
Staples, however, likely would not be able to accommodate bus maintenance facilities, a condition that would reduce the savings potential at the site, Whitney said. If Staples were chosen as the new bus hub, vehicle maintenance would take place off-site.
DATTCO and education officials have explored alternate bus parking arrangements for several years, said DATTO Chief Operating Officer Cliff Gibson.
"We'd be very happy to collaborate with the town and the board, if there were another suitable location that could save the taxpayers some money," he said.
DATTO has been the school district's transportation provider since the early 1990s. It has used the Post Road lot to park school buses throughout its stint with Westport public schools. DATTCO's current contract with the town runs until June 2015.
Education board members are also studying the feasibility of building a school bus parking lot on a section of the town-owned Baron's South property that faces Post Road East, a proposal backed by Board of Finance member Michael Rea.
"I think we should build our own parking lot to solve a problem," Rea said. "It's a long-term proposition. That's idle property that could be put to use and used to save taxpayers $250,000 a year. I think this would be an ideal of relieving ourselves of a tax burden."
That plan, however, would require approval from the state Department of Transportation for one or two additional curb cuts along the Post Road, as well as the state agency's approval of a traffic-management plan.
The Board of Education is set to further discuss alternative bus parking options at a board meeting later this spring. School bus parking would not be relocated to another site until the 2013-14 school year at the earliest, Whitney said.
Funding for setting up a new school bus parking facility would not come from the municipal or education budgets. It would instead be financed through an alternate town funding source, Whitney added.
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