Champaign wants to replace bus building with bond issue
CHAMPAIGN — Champaign school district's transportation center houses a fleet of 59 buses and more than 90 employees.
But don't try to get all the employees in the facility's break room — they've tried it and don't fit, even with people crouching and squeezing, said Christine Goines, a dispatcher who's worked for the school district for 17 years.
And forget privacy — you can hear just about everyone's conversation, even when doors are closed to the dispatchers' room, director's office or the room where orientation, safety and training are addressed. The bathrooms for bus drivers and monitors open to the break room.
When parents call, wanting to discuss an issue, said the transportation department's assistant director, Rich VanEtta, they can often hear drivers talking in the background, which doesn't project professionalism.
The Champaign school board wants to replace the building and plans to spend $1.3 million from a working cash bond issue to do so. The school district wants to issue up to $14.5 million in bonds to pay for building improvements around the school district. Among the other proposed improvements are:
— Installing a new geothermal system and upgrading the electrical work at Franklin and Jefferson middle schools.
— New energy-efficient lights at Franklin, Jefferson, Central High School and Edison Middle School.
— And wireless technology in all buildings.
The bond issue would raise property taxes about $25 for the owner of a $150,000 home. If 10 percent of registered voters in the school district sign a petition by Friday, though, the school district would have to put the bond issue on a ballot in the November election. A group collecting petitions has organized around the website avoiceforschools.com. As of Tuesday afternoon, the website showed that almost 1,700 signatures have been collected. More than 5,900 need to be collected to put the question on the ballot.
The school district believes the facility makes it hard to attract and keep bus drivers. The transportation facility is located south of Bloomington Road at Hagan Street.
And driver Felicia Johnson, who's worked for the school district since 1999, said the small break room causes chaos and problems among drivers and monitors, and she thinks those could spill over to when they're with the students they're transporting.
She comes in the building long enough to pick up what she needs, but she doesn't linger because the space is so small.
And she used to drive for field trips, she said, but now won't because when she returns to the facility late at night, she has to stop the bus and get out to open the gate.
It then remains open behind her while she sweeps the bus and completes her other responsibilities. She worries that anyone could follow her in, she said. She'd like to see bright lights and an electronic gate for safer conditions, she said.
Lead mechanic Gary Foley said the building's bays don't have a lift or pit for working on buses, and some of the school district's largest trucks don't fit inside the building.
"It's functional," he said. "It's just pretty much outdated."
Goines said she thinks employees would like to dine together and get to know each other, but the driver break area doesn't work for that, she said.
If they want to have a luncheon, they have to set up tables in one of the bays. And as a dispatcher, she doesn't get much privacy because the room she works in with two other employees is in easy earshot of the break room.
"We get constantly interrupted," she said, and that could lead to errors. "It is a great challenge all day, every day."
The facility has had some flooding issues, as well — VanEtta said his desk once stood in six inches of water. The city has done some work to help relieve that problem, but the whole facility needs to be raised up, said Barbara Ramsay, the school district's director of finance.
The school board and those who work at the facility aren't the only ones who think the facility doesn't serve the school district well.
A report from James R. Farrand of Student Transportation Consulting Services called it "the most unfriendly work environment" he has seen and said it could be a major factor in staff turnover.
"The driver area is insufficient to accommodate the needs of an operation this size. There are limited kitchen facilities, the total area is inadequate for needed regular inservice, and the restroom facilities are totally inadequate for a workforce of this size," Farrand wrote. "The vehicle maintenance area has two bays for all repairs. All tools, repair parts, tires, supplies, etc.; can also be found in this area. There is no in-ground hoist for repairs. When there are no in-ground hoist areas, where snow and ice accumulates during the winter months, employee safety becomes a concern."