West Side News

Heater blocks, start up crews help buses roll in winter

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Tim Cox was a student when the blizzard of '78 hit central Ohio.

Now, as the South-Western City School District's transportation supervisor, Cox is responsible for making sure school buses are out and running to take students to class during this year's harsh winter.

"I have not seen a winter like this one with temperatures like this," he said.

"Winter driving has been a chore this year," Cox said.

Cox presented a transportation update at the South-Western school board meeting Monday, Feb. 24.

The district was fortunate to be "forward thinking" in purchasing heater blocks when it started buying diesel buses, he said.

The heater blocks can warm the buses up to 35 degrees, although they won't get quite that warm if temperatures are below zero, Cox said.

A start up crew comes in at 4:45 a.m. on winter mornings to start up each bus before the drivers arrive, he said.

The crew makes sure the buses start, keeps the vehicles warm and gets the ice off of them and help make sure the buses will run on time, Cox said.

"We monitor the roads. We talk to the police department and other drivers," he said. "If a bus driver has an issue, we hopefully have enough drivers around that route to pick up students."

Maintenance crews also come in early to clear away snow from the bus lot to allow the vehicles to get rolling later in the morning, he said.

South-Western drivers are reminded they should always drive defensively, Cox said.

"I tell them keep both hands on the wheel and be careful," he said. "I'd rather you be late and safe."

Winter driving is part of the regular training program South-Western bus drivers take, Cox said. They learn tips for what to do if buses get stuck in snow or ice and how to react if their vehicle starts sliding.

In all, the district has 194 buses with an average age of eight years, he said. The average age of South-Western's 156 route buses is 7 years. Buses are expected to last about 15 years.

On average, 13,485 South-Western students ride buses to classes each school day and district buses travel about 14,304 miles per school day, Cox said.

The buses take students to 74 schools, including 14 out-of-district special education schools, 12 charter schools and nine private schools, he said.

With the change in elementary school boundaries, new bus routes are being developed for next school year, Cox said. Ahead of the start of school, drivers will be learning and driving their new routes and meeting students they will be taking to school.

In other business Feb. 24, the board approved a plan to make improvements to Holt Road in conjunction with the construction of the new Bolton Crossing Elementary School.

The improvements will include restriping the road to provide northbound and southbound left-turn lanes, to install ADA curb ramps and upgrade pedestrian signal heads, pushbuttons and pavement markings to establish a safe signalized crossing of the north leg of Holt Road at the Southwest Boulevard intersection.

The improvements will be completed no later than October 2015. The school is scheduled to open in fall 2015.

The board also accepted Robertson Construction Services Inc.'s bid of $13.2 million for general contracting services the construction of the new J.C. Sommer Elementary School and Mobilease Modular Space Inc.'s bid of $90,500 for the purchase of a modular classroom that will be used at J.C. Sommer while the new building is being constructed.

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