by Larry Austin
Director of Transportation Jack Burns called the approval of a proposal for a new transportation center on Baseline Road "a good day for Grand Island."
District voters approved a $6.3 million proposal to build a new transportation facility behind Sidway School by a 404-233 vote on Tuesday.
Burns said he appreciated the voters' decision as well as "the superintendent's support for making this happen."
"This wouldn't happen without you," Burns told outgoing superintendent Robert Christmann after the vote.
Burns called the proposal for a new facility "an opportunity that could not be missed," adding, "I don't know if this opportunity would present itself in the future as well as it is now in terms of state aid and what they have." A combination of state aid and money the district set aside in a capital reserve account that was approved by the voters will fund the work at the facility. The project will not result in a tax increase.
"Once again, the community has demonstrated its support for the school district and for the students," said Christmann after the vote. "We're very pleased that we'll be able to improve the safety at Sidway School, both with our buses and with our parent traffic, and students exiting and entering the school. It also allows us to make the improvements that were necessary with our maintenance and buildings and grounds operation, and finally will allow the expansion of the nature center at Eco Island that so many of our students take advantage of."
Had the proposition failed, the money set aside in the capital account could not have been used in the district's general fund.
"The state allows reserve funds to be established, but they can only be used for the purpose that they were set up for, by law," Christmann said. Money could have "been used for a future capital project."
The current facility was built in the 1940s, Burns said.
"Grand Island is an island and will always be an island," Burns said. "We still have to come over bridges, and because you're an island, you've always going to need a facility on Grand Island to make busing work. There is no second choice."
"The most efficient, effective way to run transportation for an island, with island residents, and for island taxes, is to have a facility on Grand Island, and our current facility is just outdated," Burns said.
Christmann said anyone who watches the morning bus drop-off "would have a better idea as to why this proposal was made. It's just not very safe in the morning, and this will ensure a much higher level of safety because the buses will not be competing with the parents and the students who get out of the cars."
As well, the mechanics who work for the school district "are second to none, and when we get the state reports, (it notes) the mechanics (work) in terrible conditions doing an excellent job. I can't imagine what they're going to do when they have a good place to work. They'll do even better," Christmann said.