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Modesto schools order 30 electric buses to launch sustainability project

The move marks the largest single order of electric school buses in the United States, according to Blue Bird, the bus manufacturer.

MODESTO, Calif. — A new sustainability project announced by the Modesto City Schools Tuesday is slated to help bus rides to school become more environmentally friendly.

The project in Modesto is spearheaded by the $14 million purchase of 30 electric school buses, a move that the Blue Bird Corporation, a leading bus manufacturer, calls the largest single order of electric school buses in the United States. 

“This is a very exciting morning,” said Modesto City Schools Superintendent Sara Noguchi. “This is a very exciting moment, not only for our district but for our city and for the Central Valley, as we all work together to lower the carbon emissions in the valley and in our city, really to make Modesto a place that’s healthier to live.”

The days when the smell of diesel and a cacophony of engine noises wake students up while on the way to school will soon be a thing of the past, said Tim Zearly, associate superintendent of Business Services.

Zearly has been working with the district to roll out the project and new electric buses for the past two years.

“I've ridden on one, they're quiet. You don't realize that they're even on while you're riding on them,” Zearly said. “There's no diesel fuel smell, so I think it'll just be a greater environment for our students to go to school and home on a daily basis.”

Saying goodbye to the engine will not only be music to the ears of student riders but also to district officials who estimate the switch to electric will save more than $250,000 in diesel funds. 

RELATED: California plan aims to triple sale of electric cars by 2026

“The cost of fuel has risen dramatically over the last few weeks - and particularly diesel. And so that was not our intention going in but we see that as a benefit,” Zearly said. “We will no longer be purchasing diesel fuel to operate our buses. In addition, there won't be any types of pollution, whether it's noise pollution, for the students while they're there on the bus, or air pollution.”

The electric buses, to be powered by electricity generated by the district's existing and forthcoming solar panels, will replace 30 of the district's 65 buses. 

Zearly says that as more state vouchers become available to the district, they plan to expand the electric bus program. However, he notes that the district can not go fully electric yet due to the limited range of electric buses. 

"We know we're going to have to keep some diesel buses to take field trips out of Modesto, out of the county, and to take our athletic teams to their competitions," Zearly said. "We can't go 100% until technology improves, and we can get more mileage out of a full charge."

Earlier today, Modesto City Schools hosted a Sustainability Project Initiatives Overview and Kick-off for the Electric...

Posted by Modesto City Schools on Tuesday, April 19, 2022

As part of the sustainability project, district officials say they will open outdoor environmental classrooms at six school sites and add a solar panel parking structure at Davis High School. 

Other district resources such as some lawnmowers and tractors will also be going electric, which means they will also be quieter, officials say.

"We can mow and take care of our grass areas in our schools during school now, it will not interrupt the student learning in the classroom," Zearly said. "It'll be a much cleaner environment, a quieter environment for our students in Modesto City Schools."

For Modesto City School officials, the project is a way to set the standard for the future and improve conditions around the region, outside of the classrooms.

"The initiatives we are showcasing today will help the education of our students by teaching them good environmental sustainability and stewardship, as well as provide them opportunities to learn the skills necessary for the green jobs of the future," Noguchi said. "All of this together has built a strong foundation to build our sustainability rollout, this is just the beginning."

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