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Hot rides
No air conditioning
in most school buses

By Bayne Hughes 340-2432

A heat wave greeted students this week with the start of the new school year and many found themselves on a hot seat.

A survey of six public school systems in the Daily's circulation area showed most large school buses do not have air conditioning. But state law requires air conditioning on special needs mini-buses.

"Our air conditioning is the 12 windows on each side of the bus," Superintendent Dexter Rutherford joked about Lawrence County's 99 regular-sized buses.

Athens is the only school system in which all of its large buses have air conditioning. Athens bought all of its buses this summer and began a comprehensive bus service when classes began Thursday.

"We just made a decision that, if we were going to have a new bus service, we were going to have air conditioning on our buses," Athens Superintendent Orman Bridges said. "Most school systems are going to it, and we felt like it's important with the extreme temperatures in this area."

6 out of 30 in Decatur

Six of Decatur's 30 large buses have air conditioners. The remaining four school systems do not have any air-conditioned buses."Luckily, most of our students aren't on the bus for more than 30 minutes," Decatur Transportation Director Bonnie Cowan said.

Cowan said the six air-conditioned buses are Decatur's newest. Decatur is now buying buses with air conditioners when it replaces old buses or adds to its fleet. Most school systems use a bus for 10 years before replacing it. The state gives the school system money to buy new buses if they are not more than a decade old.

Morgan County Director of Transportation Bruce Kimbrell said it costs about $7,000 more to buy a bus with air conditioning, plus the school system would need to hire two technicians to keep the air conditioning operating. Morgan County has 95 buses.

"It's just cost-prohibitive to add air conditioning to buses," Kimbrell said.

Limestone County Director of Transportation Darryl Adams said air conditioners also put more strain on the bus engines.

Water in Lawrence

In the absence of air conditioning, school officials are emphasizing making sure students are hydrated. They are allowing students to carry bottled water onto the buses. Lawrence County is selling bottled water to students.

School officials are also taking precautions in other areas of school, particularly in physical education and athletics.

"I sent an e-mail to my principals asking them not to overexert the students and keep a close eye on the students," Hartselle Superintendent William Michael Reed said.

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