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When floodwaters hit Louisiana in August 2016, the effects were devastating. The flood damaged an estimated 110,000 homes and 100,000 vehicles, resulting in more than $10 billion in losses. Its impact on the state’s school system restricted 265,000 students’ access to education.
“That flood happened only a couple days after the beginning of the school year,” says Gary Reese, chief of student support services for East Baton Rouge Parish Schools. “It flooded eight of our schools and three administrative sites.”
In addition to floodwaters closing schools and affecting 30% of the parish’s students and staff, Reese says the school system’s transportation department lost 114 buses out of a fleet of about 650, delaying school through Labor Day. Within the first weeks after the waters receded, East Baton Rouge Parish Schools purchased 68 school buses to bolster the diminished fleet.
“I went straight to the vendors and said, ‘I need buses, and I need them now,’” Reese says. “They did a search across the nation and found new buses. Some of them I’m told were due for other school systems that very graciously conceded and let those come to us. The vendors got these buses from everywhere they could.” Because of school bus regulations specific to the state of Louisiana, vehicles had to be retrofitted before they could be used.
Despite the troubles caused by the flood, there was a silver lining for the East Baton Rouge Parish Schools fleet. Before the flood, the transportation department was evaluating the implementation of propane vehicles over diesel. After losing 114 buses, Reese took the opportunity to find grants that would enable him to replace the lost vehicles with propane models.
Of the opportunity to move forward with propane buses, Reese says, “There’s always something good that comes out of something bad, and that happens to be one of the good.”