Charter school purchases 28-passenger bus to shuttle students to and from Steamboat

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— Steamboat Springs students attending North Routt Community Charter School will have a more accessible option this coming school year for the 20-mile drive to the Clark campus.

For the first time, the school is investing fundraiser money and setting aside money from its overall budget to purchase a 28-passenger school bus that will make twice-daily trips from Steamboat to the charter school.

“It’s a big step,” NRCCS Principal Brandon LaChance said. “I think that’s the big undertaking (the NRCCS school board) and myself had to realize. We are on a different playing field as a school. We are a growing school and our academics are in great shape.”

LaChance said he and the NRCCS board began exploring transportation options in the middle of the winter. Through a series of board meetings in the spring, the school decided to heed the advice of Steamboat Springs School District Maintenance and Transportation Director Pascal Ginesta and shop for a bus through Colorado West Equipment, a Henderson-based company.

Colorado West Equipment provides a line of Blue Birds buses, one of the top mass transit manufacturers in the country, LaChance said. The money is coming from generalized fundraising efforts with a small portion from operational expenses handed down by the state as well as “tight budgeting and school prioritization.”

Superintendent Brad Meeks said LaChance approached the district in the spring with the idea of it swinging some of the charter school's proposed transportation service costs. Meeks said the district explored the idea, but concerns in fleet and staff availability forced them to opt away from the request.

Although NRCCS is under the district’s wing, the district is not obligated to provide transportation because it is a charter school, Meeks said in a message.

LaChance said his school has 14 students enrolled from Steamboat Springs who make the drive to Clark, sometimes through nasty winter snowstorms along Routt County Road 129.

He added that 11 students last year were utilizing a parent carpool system, rotating as a shuttle each day.

And with more parents coming by or phoning his office each year inquiring about sending their children to NRCCS, LaChance said a transportation system became a priority.

“When you look at it from the perspective from the parents and kids who need to get to (Steamboat) for activities, it’s a huge benefit for them,” he said.

The bus will pick up NRCCS-bound students at the Steamboat Transit Center at 7:15 a.m. every school day, with the goal of getting them to campus by 7:50 a.m. for the 8 a.m. class start. Students will be let out at about 10 minutes early from class to catch the bus back to Steamboat — a period typically used for packing up and class organization — to get students to activities at Steamboat Springs Middle School on time.

Above all else — even finances — the goal behind the project was giving NRCCS students greater options to enjoy after- or in-school activities, either in Steamboat or in North Routt, LaChance said.

Last school year, NRCCS rented a bus from the school district nearly every Friday to ship kids to and from its Friday adventures as part of its Expeditionary Learning curriculum. The charter school will continue to rent the bus to take its 84 students, but for smaller class trips, the newly purchased unit should save NRCCS money in the long run, LaChance said.

The bus, however, won’t make its debut on campus until about a month into the 2014-15 school year. The paperwork needed by the Colorado Department of Education takes a few months to process, the principal said, so in the meantime, students and parents likely will need to use their carpool method from a year ago.

NRCCS begins school Sept. 2. The school will host a parent meeting at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 6 at the Bud Werner Memorial Library to discuss the bus schedule, rules and what it will look like moving forward. Three days later on Aug. 9, it will hold its school year kickoff fundraiser barbecue in Clark.

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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