Back Up the Buses

The East Hampton School Board should push administrators and the district’s architects to look for a better solution for student transportation than the proposed $5 million bus barn planned for high school property near Cedar Street. The proposed maintenance building, fuel pumps, and parking have been gaining opposition almost by the day. It should be heeded.

Admitting that the plan would lead to noise problems for neighbors, the district’s architect has said that the new building could serve as a sound buffer for people with houses nearby. And he said that trees, shrubs, and a fence would screen it from view. Another indication of the Cedar Street site being inappropriate is that, because of the proximity to houses, the parking area would be laid out to avoid buses backing up, cutting down on beeping noises when they otherwise would shift into reverse. None of this bodes well. When officials start speaking of acoustic blocks, driving buses only forward, and cutting off sightlines with shrubs, the game is already lost. 

The district’s student transportation headaches go back a decade, when problems with the service provided by a private company prompted the school board to take over. Shortly before the school year was to begin in September 2006, the board held an emergency meeting and decided not to seek bids from other companies, instead opting to rent buses, hire drivers, and go it alone. Leonard Schaefer, who had provided bus service for the district for many years, complained that he had been forced out of business because the district lured away drivers with offers of higher pay.

Since then, the district has been in the transportation business, leasing the former Schaefer property on Route 114 for its buses. Recently, however, the property was sold, and the district has use of it guaranteed only until next fall.

In 2010 the board was badly rebuffed by voters in a bid to buy vacant industrial property on King Street for a bus facility. At the time, Raymond Gaultieri, the school superintendent, warned that should the King Street deal fall through, a Cedar Street site was the likely alternative. Mr. Gaultieri resigned to take a job in Pennsylvania the following summer.

The board now believes that moving everything onto its own property once and for all is the best way to go. The site has been chosen and the board seems ready to seek funding through a referendum. 

What the board has not done is seek bids from private companies to once again provide the needed services. This would not only show respect for the neighbors’ concerns, but might even lower costs. The district, and taxpayers, would be able to compare the estimated cost of issuing bonds and paying interest over a period of time with the costs of private services.

“We’re going into the bus business,” Mr. Gaultieri declared in 2010. The time may have come to reverse course.