By Marcello Iaia
HILLTOWNS — As winter weather looms on the horizon, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board is looking at ways to solve a drainage problem at the district’s bus garage.
A study to be completed next month will help the school board deal with water accumulated in the district bus garage during winter months. The study will outline options for long-term maintenance of the bus fleet and working conditions for mechanics.
District Business Official David Hodgkinson said yesterday that the study by Schafer Engineering Associates & Huntley Associates P.C. is not yet completed, but estimated it would be ready in January. It will determine the costs and possible solutions for removing water that drips from melted ice and snow on buses and accumulates in a puddle that bus driver Darleen Shrederis, who is also local unit president of the Civil Service Employees Association, said can be two inches deep and several feet long.
The floor of the garage is pitched towards the center, but the drain has been cemented over, and its holding tank was removed. Shrederis said it was cemented during her 27 years with the district, but does not know why. Mechanics could get hurt using power tools near the puddle, she said, so sump pumps are needed to drain the graywater into roadside ditches. With a mild winter last year, and no severe weather yet this December, the problem has not been severe.
“We hope for no snow. That’s all we’ve got,” bus mechanic David Clark told The Enterprise.
When interim Business Official Joe Natale spoke about the feasibility study at the Sept. 10 board meeting, he said the costs and options involved could vary from a simple fix, to a large capital project.
“It might be putting a tank in the ground and draining it in there, and paying someone to come and draw it out every month,” said Natale at the meeting. “Or, it might be tying it into the [sewer] system with DEC approval. You’ve got other agencies involved because of the oil separation,” said Natale, referring to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
Rick Georgeson, a spokesman for DEC’s Region 4, wrote in an e-mail to The Enterprise that the department has provided technical guidance for an oil-separator.
“We do not know any of the particular circumstances surrounding the installation of the separator (if one was installed) so we can not speculate as to whether or not it is needed or if enforcement would or would not be required,” wrote Georgeson.
Last month, the town of Berne received DEC approval of its engineering plans for a wastewater collection and treatment facility, allowing it to go out to bid on its sewer project, which has been planned since the late 1990’s.
Helen Lounsbury, board of education member and retired district teacher, said at the Sept. 10 meeting that the possibility of a having a wash bay at the garage was part of a discussion between the district and the town of Berne. It would allow buses to be cleaned of snow and salt.
“The town of Berne could provide their garage for our inspections while we were trying to get this fixed because they were afraid the inspectors wouldn’t work on a wet floor,” said Lounsbury, whose brother, Joseph Golden, is a Berne councilman.
The state’s Department of Transportation inspects each bus twice a year, Shrederis said at the September meeting.
Board member Gerald Larghe and board President Vasilios Lefkaditis pointed out the potential savings of washing the damaging salt off of undercarriages, increasing their longevity.
“If you push off buying buses for one year, you just saved $350,000,” said Lefkaditis.
Two years ago, voters approved a $305,000 purchase of two 66-passenger buses, and two 28-passenger buses, affecting the long-term maintenance of buses. State transportation aid covered 70 percent of $200,000, bonded over five years, towards the buses. The remaining $105,000 came from the district’s transportation reserve. The proposition was voted down the spring before when it included a fifth bus, for roughly $60,000 more.
Natale said, if the board were looking into the wash bay, it could be up to voters as well.
“You’re right, a bus rack is nice to have, but you’re talking about a capital project, a referendum with the voters to approve hundreds of thousands of dollars to build that,” said Natale. “I mean, you’re talking about years out there.”
Lounsbury said the big cost to such a project is disposing of the water.
After being confronted about tensions with bus drivers at their Dec. 3 meeting, BKW School Board members agreed President Lefkaditis would visit the transportation department’s next training meeting in an effort to settle any concerns.
A public letter to the board from bus driver Terry Schinnerer listing concerns about relations between the two groups was published in the Dec. 6 issue of The Enterprise. Lounsbury said at the December meeting that she was “dismayed” by the letter, which accused the board of discussing privatization of the transportation department.
Schrederis recalled a related comment at the September board meeting, when she told the board sump pumps from the bus garage were draining into ditches along the road. Lounsbury responded at that meeting by telling Shrederis to “think this through,” and suggested outsourcing the transportation department could be a consequence of publicizing the current disposal method.
Lounsbury said at the Dec. 3 meeting that the board had not discussed what the letter alleged and Shrederis had misunderstood her message in September.
Lefkaditis will represent the board at the department training meeting, which Director of Transportation Denise Towne said last week has not been scheduled. She guessed it would be in late January.
“We’re still putting together our final curriculum for it,” said Towne. “We have until March 1st to do the training.”
District Superintendent Paul Dorward said he planned to visit the training meeting as well.