By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
On the morning after spring break, four school buses leave the venerable bus barn on Third Street in Carbondale, but don’t return.
The maintenance crew and a handful of drivers have spent the last week moving all the old tools and parts up to a new facility near El Jebel. In a few months, Roaring Fork School District hopes to have the old building torn down, the soil sampled and mitigated as needed, and a new teacher housing complex under construction on the site. For now, it stands empty except for a few eccentricities: a ribbon of an old mural that must have escaped being painted over behind a pillar, a goofy face under the dust shadow of a clock, an arrow with “gum scrapers” scrawled on the wall.
The Carbondale bus routes – #48 to Marble, #40 to Missouri Height and #7 and #39 in town proper – will operate alongside Basalt buses out of the new space, which is where they all ended up on March 27.
Transportation Director Jared Rains is there to direct them. A 1994 Roaring Fork High School grad, Rains remembers taking some sort of shop class in the old barn back in middle school.
He started out as paraprofessional and driver for the district, and his current role reminds him in some ways of his time as a tank officer.
“Everything comes down to logistics,” he laughs. “I’ve just got little kids instead of Marines.”
He’s used to all the standard question about bus systems.
Why no seat belts? Because it’s nearly impossible to design them for kids of all sizes who may or may not use them correctly. Instead, they’re designed to cushion passengers in between seats in an impact, “like an egg crate”.
“These vehicles are some of the safest forms of transportation on the planet,” he says.
That factors into his 5 a.m. decisions on whether to call a snow day, along with the feedback from his crew, which runs the gamut from retirees to computer techs to cooks – folks with the flexibility to take on an awkward part time split shift.
“It’s really our people that keep these kids safe,” he notes. “There’s nowhere else you put 70 kids in a room without a task, turn your back on them for an hour and expect it to work out.”
Currently, about a third of the student body takes the bus on a given day, a figure Rains wouldn’t mind seeing increase. With sports and field trips, however, pretty much everyone buses at least once a year.
“We’ve got a lot of people’s lives in our hands,” longtime mechanic Ryan Carlson says. “That’s something we think about all the time.”
According to Carlson – call him the bus doctor – the long rural routes have some maintenance advantages but can also be a real pain. For every day that a bus breaks down in Marble and everyone has to scramble, though, there are dozens of smooth ones.
“One thing I like about this shop is the view out my front door,” he says. “A lot of our drivers have a lot of memories here, but you can always make new ones.”
Kaytie Kagerer, a relatively new addition to the team, is pleased with the new facility.
“We’re pretty excited to be part of this century,” she said. “Being able to have three and sometimes four bays available to work on buses will be great.”
“There is a lot more happening behind the scenes than I think people realize,” she added. “I know the drivers will notice. We’ll be able to get to the little things quicker. I don’t know that the students will see it, except that the buses might be cleaner.”
The new facility boasts a drive-over pit and “the biggest car wash in the Valley,” and is a near twin to the upgraded bus barn in Glenwood.
There’s some griping on day one as the crew tries to find their files, hook up the coffee maker and arrange rides back to Carbondale, but it doesn’t last long.
“We were pretty resistant,” admits driver Tara Volpe. “It’s a longer drive for us now, but it’s something you just gotta get used to. Once we get into the swing of it, it’s gonna be good.”
“We’ve got it all here; we just have to figure out where it goes,” Rains agrees. “It’ll be good to give these guys the space they need. They’re absolutely fantastic facilities.”