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home : features : schools February 5, 2016

8/28/2013 8:25:00 AM
Director struggles to maintain aged buses
By Kathi Sabot
Chino Valley Review

Jeff Lambert wants to move away, far away from sports fields that send stray balls into school bus windows.

"Our insurance deductible is high enough that we just pay for any broken windows to district or employee vehicles caused by baseballs. Last year we got off pretty light, I can only remember one bus window and one bus dent," said Lambert, transportation director for Chino Valley Unified School District.

Lambert is sitting at his desk in what used to be the Bates family barn. The transportation office, which he built in the late 1980s from discarded door frames and parts of a previously demolished library building, is on the east campus of the high school. During his tenure, he has been the director of maintenance, safety and transportation.

"It's not fancy, but at least I have an office," he said. "I came to work for the school at $3.54 per hour in 1981. We had three buses, two out here and one into Prescott. Now we have 26 buses. We are transporting 1,800 individual students per day, K-12," Lambert said.

Before the high school was built in 1988-89, all senior high students were bused into Prescott. When the buses were not in use, they were parked a safe distance from the then-elementary school, which was located on the west side of the current high school campus.

"I have 28 employees. One mechanic, one administrative assistant, and the drivers. We lost our head mechanic position and dispatcher due to budget cuts. So, we're down to the bare bones here. We're not that fancy here, as you can tell, but we get the job done," he said.

The paint is flaking off the aging farm buildings, and the Bates family name is visible above the entrance to what is now the mechanic's garage. Every morning the parking lot fills with dust as employee vehicles enter, and 26 buses exit to transport children to the Chino Valley schools.

The lot is located between two ball fields, and students frequently run through while buses are pulling out. On game nights, visitors search for parking. Students also drive through the lot for a short cut out of school. All of this poses a safety threat.

"We want to move this department completely off this campus. See all that dust? Some kid just did a roadie out there. This facility, on this campus, is the number one safety issue in the district," said Lambert. "We have kids coming through here constantly, and we just don't have the security."

And although all the buses have passed the required inspections, the older buses don't meet newer safety standards, including the eight-way light system to alert traffic, and wider aisles inside the bus. Some of the district's buses are 17 years old.

"With one mechanic, we do good to keep these old buses going," Lambert said. "At some point it just becomes ridiculous."

The Chino Valley Fire Department recently recognized Lambert at the Aug. 13 school board meeting. He kept school buses on standby for possible evacuations during the Doce and Yarnell fires this summer.

"Our school buses also transported 66 fire fighters to the Hotshot Memorial at Tim's Toyota Center. The Yavapai County Emergency Response Teams know they can count on us," Lambert said.

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