District 203 purchasing first electric buses

In a continuing effort to reduce the carbon footprint in Naperville Unit District 203, the school board for the first time has approved the purchase of electric buses.

After this week's unanimous vote, the district will buy four electric buses from Lion Electric Company for $1.36 million. While the purchase will require $830,000 in additional funding because of the higher cost compared to diesel-fueled buses, officials said money in the future will be saved through the reduction of fuel costs and less maintenance for the electric buses.

Electric vehicles have been on the radar for district officials for several years. Non-fueled buses were discussed several times by the school board, which in September approved the purchase of four electric cars for the driver's education programs at Naperville Central and Naperville North high schools.

Seventeen buses in total, including the four standard-sized 71-seat electric buses, will be replaced for $3.1 million. The electric buses are scheduled to begin transporting students next school year.

"It's something that I've asked about for a couple years now," said board member Donna Wandke, who had been critical in the past about what she said was a slow transition to non-fueled vehicles. "So I'm super excited that we're exploring that and moving in that direction."

Michael Frances, the district's chief financial officer, said some logistical issues remain. He also said that while the district is buying four electric buses in this purchase cycle, committing to a specific number of future buses isn't possible right now.

Frances said the infrastructure for charging stations needs to be upgraded to account for the buses, but a surplus in the transportation budget for the last few years will allow money to be spent on the green initiative.

The district received no grant money or tax breaks for the purchase, Frances said, but they'll continue to be sought moving forward.

"We're hopeful this plan will continue into the future," Frances said. "I'm not sure if it's going to be another four (electric buses) or maybe it'll be six.

"Hopefully, we'll keep these buses for a little bit longer, too, so we don't have to recycle them like we do now on our eight-year cycle," he said. "Hopefully, we can make them last 10, maybe even up to 12 years, so there's less of a recycle."

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