Propane buses put on hold for now

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 22, 2014

By david vitrano

ST. JAMES – An expected vote on whether the St. James Parish School Board should purchase propane-fueled buses for its fleet did not materialize as some members wanted a bit more information before making the leap.

The concerns stemmed from uncertainty over the long-term price of propane as well as the still-unknown cost of building fueling stations to service the propane buses. First Student, the company that has been contracted to manage district transportation, provided the School Board with a study estimating the move to diesel would save about $80,000 annually.

Board member Patricia Schexnayder said she was concerned that harsh winters could drive the cost of propane up and even create shortages during the winter months, but according to Superintendent Alonzo Luce that should not be a concern in the River Parishes.

“We actually have a refinery in the River Parishes that produces propane,” said Luce. “We have it so abundant where we are.”

Still some were not convinced and wanted to see how another item on the agenda fared before conducting the final vote. This item concerned advertising for bids for necessary infrastructure and fuel costs for the propane buses.

According to Admini strative Director of Business Operations Jim Mitchell, the requested bids would include not only the cost of setting up four-hose fueling stations on both sides of the Mississippi River, but also pricing for the propane itself.

“We are going to request both a fixed cost and a fluctuating cost,” he said.

The First Student study put the price of propane at $2.13 per gallon, but Luce said he thought by advertising for bids the district might be able to secure the fuel at a lower rate.

“Worst case, we save about $80,000 per year,” said Luce.

Another concern regarded finding fueling stations for the buses when traveling out of parish, but Administrative Director of Student Services Gaynell Albert said the district planned to keep some diesel buses for this reason.

“We are only asking the board for 23 out of 50 (buses),” said Luce.

In the end, the Board approved a slightly altered version of the bid solicitation — rewording it as a solicitation of competitive prices because the bid process would take too long — and chose to table the vote on purchasing 23 propane-fueled buses until some of those prices came in.

The move went against a recommendation by First Student to decide on the buses as soon as possible so they could be secured by the start of the 2014-15 school year, but Luce said even if the buses did not come in time, the district could still “limp along” for the start of the year.

Even if the Board ultimately decides not to make the switch to propane buses, it will still need to approve the purchase of new diesel-fueled buses to replace aging vehicles.

“These are buses we would have received for the current year,” said Albert.

In other action, the School Board accepted as substantially complete the access road to the site of the new St. James High School stadium. It also approved the Building Committee’s recommendation to name the throughway “Champion Street.” These moves were the next steps to getting the road listed as an official road with the parish.

It also approved two out-of-state trips for St. James Parish students. Next week the ProStart II class will be traveling to the French Culinary Institute in New York City, and in April the Lutcher High School Band will travel to Orlando, Fla., for the National High School Band Competition.

The meeting, which was held in the St. James High School auditorium, began with an award presentation for winners of the district science fair.