Below are some frequently asked questions we have received about the transportation garage (also known as the “bus barn”) on James Street. Over the past weeks, we have listened to concerns related to our building renovation project as it relates to the adjacent Whatcom Creek. Here is some background and information on our plans.
What do the transportation garage renovations include?
- The transportation garage project involves interior improvements to an existing building. Our project includes renovating the existing building to provide for improved service bays, vehicle hoists, fluid and air distribution, parts and tool storage, restrooms, break room, heating and ventilation systems, electrical systems and building envelope (windows, roof, etc.). At the completion of the project, we will not be changing our operations in any way; we will simply be maintaining and repairing our buses in a safer, more efficient building.
When was this approved by voters?
- The proposals we sent to the voters as part of both the 2013 and 2018 bonds were to provide funding to renovate an existing building where we maintain and repair our buses (not to relocate our transportation operations). Both bond measures were overwhelmingly approved by district voters.
What impact will the project have on the creek?
- The renovation of the existing building will have no impact on the adjacent creek. The scope of this project includes upgrading oil/water separators; that system connects to the sanitary sewer, not the storm sewer, to ensure nothing makes its way into the creek. In addition, none of the water collected on site goes into the storm sewer (or into the creek); it goes into the sanitary sewer.
Are there any other alternatives for transporting students, such as hybrid buses, that would be a viable option for the district?
- In Nov. 2016, we asked voters to consider supporting a two-year transportation levy, which included replacing our older bus fleet with newer, cleaner burning and more energy-efficient buses. Our community overwhelmingly supported this $4.4 million levy, and we have replaced 40 older buses. The levy planning advisory group considered alternate fuel buses as part of their work but decided to retain the diesel bus model at least for the time being until new reliable technologies become available. One technology we will be monitoring is the use of renewable diesel fuel which burns extremely clean. We know that WTA will not be purchasing any additional diesel hybrid bus due to maintenance concerns.
- Our bus fleet provides to and from school transportation to over 3,500 students each day. Using buses helps improve air quality by reducing the need for many separate trips by private vehicles. Moving more students with fewer vehicles, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce overall fuel consumption. The levy planning advisory group also recommended the district continue to provide bus transportation for our students to help address our growing needs, especially for students with special needs and those who are homeless. The committee believed that encouraging students to ride the bus, walk or bike to school was a way to foster good stewardship of public funds and our environment. Our assessment continues to be that it’s in the best interest of our students, families and community to provided transportation via school buses.
I heard that there was a possibility that some buses are parked on city property. Is this true?
- No, this is not true. Our buses are parked on school district property, not city property. On March 11, 2019, the city’s public works department’s survey group confirmed we are parked on school district property.
Why can’t the transportation garage and the buses move to a new location?
Below is a list of sites we have assessed:
- Haskell Business Park – our real estate broker has confirmed there is no property for sale in Haskell Business Park.
- Albertson’s Grocery (now closed, located on Birchwood) – our real estate broker has confirmed that the building has been leased to Big Lots.
- K-Mart (located at Sunset Square shopping mall) – our real estate broker has confirmed the site is not available.
- Irongate industrial complex – our real estate broker has confirmed that presently, in Irongate, there are no 3-20 acres parcels listed and available.
- Bellingham Public Schools north-end buildings and grounds facility – since the site has wetlands it is not large enough to relocate our operations.
- Parcel at 2891 E Bakerview Rd. (just east of our buildings and grounds building on east Bakerview) – Relocating school buses to this location will result in reduced efficiencies, greater costs and greater carbon emissions as a result of longer total route times. This location is in an area that we do not drive when operating on snow (alternate) bus routes due to the hills at the corner of East Bakerview and Hannegan and at the corner of Dewey Road and Mt. Baker Highway. If our buses were all dispatched from this location, there is great concern we could not get them up those hills to their routes.
There is not another viable location that has been identified by anyone. If that changes, we remain open to listening to any idea. In the meantime, we will move forward on upgrading our facility, and improve the working conditions for our staff and improve our ability to maintain our buses.