Legislative funding allows Maine Military Authority to refurbish 30 school buses

Posted May 03, 2012, at 4:29 p.m.
Last modified May 03, 2012, at 5:36 p.m.

LIMESTONE, Maine — Maine Military Authority employees have worked hard to earn the company’s nationwide reputation for refurbishing Humvees at a fraction of their competitors’ cost and at the highest level of quality. A new pilot program recently approved by state lawmakers is another step forward for MMA in diversifying that single-product branding.

Maine Military Authority Executive Director Tim Corbett has been saying for years, “We do a lot more than Humvees.” Soon 30 school buses from around the state will be renovated or rebuilt among the Humvees.

Maine Military Authority Director of Business Development Timothy McCabe said that the pilot program aims to help school departments manage their bus fleets and extend their already stretched budgets, as refurbishing a vehicle will easily extend a bus’s life by seven to 10 years for less than half the cost of buying a new one.

“The price tag for us to refurbish a bus is about $30,000, and the price of a brand-new bus is about $85,000; this refurbishment process is made for [school departments] to be able to stretch their budget dollars,” McCabe said Friday.

When school districts need to purchase new buses, they submit an application to the state for reimbursement, or governmentally called “State Shared Percentage.” The authority’s refurbished buses weren’t eligible for those funds until the Legislature recently approved roughly $400,000 in funding to allow schools to receive 30 to 70 percent reimbursement for refurbishing their aging buses.

“With the State Share Percentage factored in, districts can potentially refurbish three buses for the price of purchasing one new bus,” McCabe said.

As the $400,000 was appropriated for the current fiscal year, refurbishment contracts need to be signed off on before the end of June.

“Right now it’s first come, first served,” Corbett said Tuesday, adding that he has heard from interested school districts statewide.

“[The school bus program] could certainly provide added work hours and add to stability,” MMA’s executive director said.

Maine weather being what it is, bus bodies often break down long before their mechanical systems.

“The [bus] program is built around body and frame corrosion mitigation,” McCabe said. The program extends the use of vehicles now in their midlife, which is indicated by the condition of the bus — not age, make or model.

MMA has sent inspection teams around the state looking for buses eligible for the program; as of April 27, they had inspected roughly 60 buses with a 50 percent program-acceptance rate.

The famed refurbishment company first proved the effectiveness of its bus program about a year ago, footing the bill to refurbish a couple of school buses for the Oakland-based RSU 18.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen toured the Loring facilities a year ago in conjunction with MMA’s first refurbished buses and discussed the program’s potential. Bowen told the Aroostook Republican shortly after his MMA visit that he was impressed with the program.

Loring Operations Manager Robert Jandreau said it now takes MMA employees about three weeks to refurbish a bus. Keeping with the authority’s high standard and motto of “quicker, faster, cheaper,” Jandreau is looking to get that three-week turnaround down to two.

MMA recently overhauled a former Howitzer storage area, turning it into a top-of-the-line paint and body facility that’s ahead of the curve in both technology and federal Environmental Protection Agency standards; the facility and equipment updates came with a $10,000,000 price tag.

“[The school bus program] utilizes the new facility perfectly,” McCabe said.

The overhaul has made drastic improvements in MMA’s quality, cost-effectiveness and turnaround.

The new electrostatic paint chamber, for instance, means that metal vehicle parts — such as hood tie-downs, Corbett said — can be painted using half the amount of product, as paint particles are drawn specifically to the tie-downs like a magnet.

From 80-foot blasting chambers that remove old paint and rust to drying chambers that can set the iconic yellow paint on a school bus in about 40 minutes, the body and paint shop improvements will be used by every vehicle that drives through MMA’s doors.

Before the improvements were made, two MMA employees could paint approximately four Humvees a day; now they can paint eight.

Meanwhile, Corbett’s sights are set on all the other equipment he would like to see drive through their body and paint shop — such as firetrucks and backhoes.

Information about MMA’s school bus program can be found at www.mainemilitaryauthority.com.

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