The Denison Independent School District’s board of trustees took steps Tuesday night to replace a bus that was destroyed earlier this year in a fire. The school board approved a set of budget amendments that included $116,000 to replace the special education bus with a similar model.
In February, a Denison ISD school bus caught fire when district mechanics were conducting a test drive after completing repairs. No one was injured in the incident and the mechanic was the sole occupant of the vehicle.
“We still have not been able to find out why,” Randy Reid, Denison assistant superintendent for business services, said. “This is the first time I have seen a bus catch on fire and completely burn up.”
The fire occurred on Feb. 19 as a mechanic was test driving the bus along U.S. Highway 75 near the intersection with U.S. Highway 69. At around 1:45 p.m. the mechanic pulled the bus over to the shoulder of the roadway after he heard a loud “pop” from the engine block, which subsequently caught fire.
“It had some engine issues that had been reported,” then-Denison Fire Martial John Weda said at the time of the fire. “They had replaced an oil pump. The mechanic had taken it out, test driving, and said he started seeing smoke rolling out from under the engine compartment.”
Reid said the bus was only about four years old, but had more than 100,000 miles on it. On average, the district tends to keep a bus in service about 18-20 years before retirement, he said.
Reid said the bus was a total loss, and the district needs to replace it in time for the new school year this fall. The bus will be similar in design to the one that was destroyed, he said, noting that prices have gone up since the original bus was put into service.
The bus was a specialized vehicle that was used primarily with the district’s special education programs. As such, it has outfitted with specialized equipment including lifts for wheelchairs. In total, the vehicle can safely carry about 82 passengers, Reid said.
Since the fire, the district has used spare vehicles to fill the gap in transportation, he added.
In addition to the expenses for the bus, Reid said the district received just over $46,000 in insurance reimbursement from the fire, leaving the city with just under $70,000 in net expenses for the replacement.
Reid said the fire will have a lasting effect on the district with regards to how it views and carries out preventative maintenance for its other vehicles.