Capac students board buses outside the elementary school in September. Grant funding, using settlement dollars from Volkswagen’s Clean Air Act violations, will help the district purchase three clean diesel buses.

Fuel Transformation Program promises
cost savings and reduced emissions

CAPAC — The school district is the recipient of a state grant that will help them add new, “greener” buses to their fleet.

Last month, the multi-district consortium they participated in for purposes of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy’s Fuel Transformation Program was awarded more than $1.89 million to purchase 44 diesel and 20 propane buses. Capac Community Schools received a 25 percent reimbursement on the acquisition of three “clean diesel” buses, saving $75,000 on the overall purchase price of from $300,000.

Supt. Jeff Terpenning said the district was already planning on purchasing two new buses with funds from their 2017 bond and, thanks to the grant funding, they’ll have enough to get one extra vehicle. Their plan is to acquire the new buses over the life of the two-year program. They hope to get their first new bus sometime this spring.

“One of those buses will be a bigger capacity vehicle so we can hopefully just use one instead of needing two when we take students on certain trips,” Terpenning said.

As part of the grant agreement, Capac will remove three older buses from service. To be eligible for the grant program, a district’s fleet had to meet certain age and mileage requirements.

“Once we get our third new bus our fleet will be fairly new then,” Terpenning said, but the district will need to start setting aside money for future transportation investment “because nothing lasts forever.”

The grant program intends to save schools money while improving air quality.

“Replacing older, diesel engines with clean diesel or propane delivers savings for school districts and will also improve public health at bus stops, on school grounds, and in communities,” said Jack Schinderle, Director of EGLE’s Materials Management Division.

“Students who have cleaner air to breathe will do better in school and have fewer health concerns.”

Terpenning credits Brown City Community Schools Superintendent Neil Kohler for spearheading the creation of a consortium and handling the grant paperwork.

“He did pretty much everything. Neil deserves all the credit,” he said.

The Brown City School Bus Purchase Consortium included 18 school districts and one intermediate school district spanning 15 counties from across Michigan. Other local participants included Cros-Lex, North Branch and Yale and those further afield included Berrien Springs, Hudsonville and Saline, among others. The grant allows the consortium to purchase a total of 64 new buses.

According to a press release from the consortium, “The Fuel Transformation Program Grants are supported with dollars allocated to Michigan from the Volkswagen settlement. The settlement was a result of Volkswagen’s Clean Air Act violations related to the installation of emissions control defeat devices on thousands of diesel engine vehicles. As part of the settlement, Michigan was allocated a total of $64.8 million and will use 21.5% of that total to replace old diesel school buses.”

Kohler said it was satisfying to work cooperatively with other districts to secure the grant.

“Many of our districts had never worked together in any capacity, but this consortium proves that districts across the state can work together to create better opportunities and financial savings for all involved. It is my hope that the relationships built through this grant can extend to future projects, or encourage other districts to think ‘Big Picture’ in how districts need to work together for the success of public schools in Michigan,” Kohler said.