Published 8:06 am Thursday, August 27, 2015
WINDSOR – Just in time for the opening of a new school year comes the opening of a “new” school bus garage for Bertie County students.
Last Friday the ceremonial ribbon was cut at the new Bertie County Schools Transportation Department, now re-located to a newly renovated facility at 135 County Farm Road.
Plans for the new garage were developed and changed over the past three years to make a new facility a reality for the employees who have been working in a condemned garage and office building for many years located just down the road from the new garage at 222 County Farm Road.
At the regular meeting of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners on Feb. 3, Bertie Schools Superintendent Elaine White gave a PowerPoint presentation showing the old bus garage, and it was hardly flattering.
“This building has been condemned twice, but we still have employees in there working and our school transportation fleet being repaired in this building,” White said at the time.
The Superintendent also said the building, because of its age and disrepair, was very drafty, even in the office area, producing extremely chilly conditions for workers in winter and making it blazing hot in summer.
“We had to go through a series of things to get to the renovation part, and (realized) we could not put up a brand new building for $900,000,” White explained. “That’s why we went to the renovation part; of buying a building that was already erected that we could renovate.”
In September 2014, Jimmy and Marsha Smithwick sold their business, Bertie Builders Discount, to the Bertie Board of Education for $375,000 and the conversion began shortly afterward to turn the former warehouse into transportation offices and a garage facility.
Hite and Associates of Greenville, architects of the new Bertie High School, then began working with the school board in their efforts to renovate the facility.
“We asked them for ‘bare bones’ because we were going to do a lot of the work ourselves in phases,” White would say.
White said Hite went to the NC Department of Transportation and the Bertie County Building Inspector to make certain the renovated building would pass code.
Renovations took about a year, and the final move for the schools’ transportation employees should be complete and the facility fully operational in about two weeks.
Major outside renovations to the facility, and to the garage area, were completed by A.R. Chesson; with the Bertie County Schools Maintenance Department completing the office spaces inside.
“It took about a month to redo the offices, lighting, the floors, and everything but the garage area,” said schools Maintenance Director Matthew Bond.
The schools maintenance crew also constructed a battery storage room, and rooms for tire storage, parts, and fluids for the oil delivery system.
“All we had to do was get the materials,” Bond added. “There was no outside contractor. This is something we very much needed and we made good use of it.”
The work included demolition of the lumber racks and fire-proofing of the back office wall. There are new overhead lights, upgraded fire alarm system (with sprinklers), radiant overhead heat fixtures, and two exhaust systems: one with wall fans for ventilation and a hose system that can be connected to buses with their motors running to vent the carbon dioxide outside.
In addition they built a new divider wall that separated the garage work berths from the office area.
“The renovated building totals some 20,000 square feet, more than double the old bus garage and offices, said schools Transportation Director William Ledford. “This will help improve our efficiency as well as upgrading our safety.”
Ledford said the portable lifts the mechanics use can now raise a five-ton school bus eight feet into the air for mechanical maintenance or to make repairs. He added there was already one delivery door previously installed at the warehouse; but now three more bays have been added for a total of four, all with rollup garage doors.
“We can now work completely indoors, which will be a definite plus, especially during the winter months,” Ledford reported.
“We are very happy to have this building,” said White at the ribbon-cutting dedication. “There is plenty of parking on the outside for our fleet of 80 vehicles.”
White and Ledford added the new building will bring about a safer environment for the workers.
“I want to thank the Board of Education and Mrs. White for the vision to improve our facilities for us,” said Ledford.
“This will make the already great work they do for the students of Bertie County Schools even greater than what they have been able to do in the previous facility,” White said.