Bright sunshine and a clear blue sky were an appropriate backdrop for the Douglas County School District's presentation of three environmentally-friendly buses as part of a sustainability plan to make a brighter, cleaner future for its students.
Douglas County High School students joined representatives from the district, Noble Energy, Black Hills Energy and the Regional Air Quality Council outside the school on Nov. 16 to bring "on board" three new buses, powered by compressed natural gas (CNG).
“This is our planet and our community, and it's our job to take care of it,” said Layla Baden, a ninth-grader taking an environmental science class at the school.
Ken Lloyd, executive director for the Regional Air Quality Council, said CNG buses are a healthier alternative for members of the community than diesel-burning counterparts.
“These are the buses that are going through our neighborhoods, these are the buses that are idling at our schools,” Lloyd said, adding that “children are the most vulnerable” people to suffer the effects of air pollution.
“Compressed natural gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel,” said Courtney Kuntz, sustainability director for the district. “It'll improve air quality for students, drivers and people in the area.”
In addition to cleaner air and financial savings for the school district, Kuntz said in her address that learning about the environment benefits students in the classroom, leading to better attendance, improved academic performance and a sense of empowerment.
Kuntz went on to say that to say that seeing the buses on the road every day will provide “real-world learning” for the students and visible evidence of the district's efforts to protect the environment.
“We're creating an innovative environment and getting students to think outside of the box in response to pressing environmental issues,” Kuntz said.
Noble Energy Development Manager Curtis Rueter added that the buses will improve the district's bottom line. He said the new buses will save up to $4,000 per bus in annual fuel costs, a potential $60,000 savings for each bus over their expected 15-year use.
After receiving more than $250,000 in grants from Noble Energy and the Regional Air Quality Council, the new buses cost the district $200,706, a 16-percent decrease from the cost of comparable, used diesel buses.
Douglas County schools serve more than 70,000 students, and a shortage of buses and drivers has forced the district to change schedules and routes to mitigate the issue.
Donna Grattino, the districts' director of transportation, pointed out that the shortage isn't unique to Douglas County. She added that although three buses aren't enough to solve the problem, every bit helps.
“Our goal is to have more in the fleet,” Grattino said. “Everybody worked so hard to make this happen, now we know how to do it.”