Dense Fog Advisory issued March 6 at 3:37AM EST expiring March 6 at 10:00AM EST in effect for: DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Pinellas, Polk
After close to a year of controversy and debate, the Hillsborough County School Board approved the purchase of 100 new school buses for approximately $11 million.
The buses will be Thomas Built buses and 20 of them will have lifts.
"It's kind of like a birthday gift," said Hillsborough County school bus driver Kelmie Bigelow.
Not many would choose to spend their birthday at school district headquarters inside a board meeting, but for Bigelow the end result was worth it.
In a vote of 5-2, the school board approved the first batch of new buses. Board members Susan Valdes and April Griffin were the only ones who voted against the motion.
"To see that these guys are finally stepping up and doing something about these buses...it's long, long overdue," said Bigelow.
Bigelow has been a bus driver with Hillsborough County for three years. She drives a bus, she says, that's more than 17 years old.
For many months, the district has dealt with complaints of an aging fleet and low morale among drivers. Parents and board members have also called into question the safety of the current fleet on the road.
"I'm really upset at the lack of accountability. This has stretched out over a year. It's cost tens of thousands of dollars and as far as I've heard there haven't been any heads that have rolled because of it," Terry Kemple told the board.
But Tuesday night's purchase decision didn't come easy.
"Sometimes the lowest bid is not always the best bid," said board member Susan Valdes, referencing the need to look at other options.
"This is a big purchase and this is a big deal," said board member April Griffin.
Griffin suggested they take 20 more days to review all of the facts before voting on which company to purchase the buses from.
But ultimately she was overruled.
The district's plan is to purchase 100 new buses a year until their whole fleet is eventually replaced. The estimated timeline for that is 2027-2028.
Bigelow is glad this is only the beginning.
"A hundred buses is nothing. It's barely a drop in the bucket," she said.
According to district staff, it takes about 240 days from when the purchase order is placed to actually get the buses.