New buses carry B.G., Hockinson students

41 new vehicles hit the road; older ones head to Panama

By Howard Buck, Columbian staff writer

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Starting on Wednesday, north county drivers may notice dozens of brand-new school buses plying Battle Ground and Hockinson district routes.

And, soon, Panama residents will see a similar fleet upgrade.

In its fourth year of contract service for Battle Ground Public Schools, the Petermann Northwest firm will introduce 41 new models, fresh off the Thomas Built Buses assembly line in High Point, N.C.

That’s a big share of the daily fleet of about 113 buses used to ferry more than half of the district’s 13,000 or so students roughly 10,170 combined miles each school day.

An additional 18 replacement buses, included in the same joint purchase, will serve Hockinson School District students. That’s exactly half of Hockinson’s 36-bus fleet.

Thirty-eight of the 41 Battle Ground buses are full-size. Each runs about 40 feet long with a 72-passenger capacity. There are three new mini-buses.

All come with interior cameras and GPS units. The entire Battle Ground fleet has been retrofitted to add the cameras and global positioning system devices.

Cost for each full-size bus is pegged by the Washington state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction at about $87,500 pre-tax, and $96,000 post-tax.

Petermann is then reimbursed by the state each year for one-thirteenth of the total price, over an expected 13-year service life.

To make way for the new purchase, Petermann put 39 older models purchased from about 1996 to 1998 up for online auction. (The district has 139 buses total.) A single buyer snatched them up, for a city bus system in Panama, said Mike Gately, Petermann general manager.

The buses were to be shipped to Panama from the Port of Tacoma, he was told.

Now, any traveler in Latin America has surely seen — and likely ridden — former American school buses, chugging well into a second career. Well-maintained, the vehicles can soldier on for years.

Occasionally, an observer spots a new arrival that hasn’t been repainted, and still sports the original school district label.

That won’t happen in this case.

“We did take all the decals off. You’re not going to see a Battle Ground Public School bus in Panama,” Gately said, chuckling.