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Districts give new life to old school buses

  • A SECOND COURSE—Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville has gotten extended use out of buses by turning them into Bus Stop Cafes, mobile cafeterias used to provide free meals to students during the summer months.
  • A SECOND COURSE—Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville has gotten extended use out of buses by turning them into Bus Stop Cafes, mobile cafeterias used to provide free meals to students during the summer months.

Repurposing buses no longer suitable for daily transportation has provided schools with mobile makerspaces, traveling cafés and bookmobiles. The practice allows for extended use of an asset and adds a mobile dimension to programs that districts cannot always find space for in traditional classrooms.

Cheatham County Schools in Ashland, Tennessee, is in the process of repurposing three of the district’s older school buses that were no longer suitable for daily transportation of students.

The district polled its staff and community about possible new uses, and received many creative ideas, including a bookmobile, mobile food pantry, an art center, and a space to reward positive behavior, according to district communications director Tim Adkins.

The district will decide in the next few months and have the vehicles ready when the new school year starts in the fall.

Baltimore County Public Schools’ mobile innovation lab is a bus converted into a travelling makerspace. Columbia Public Schools (Missouri) also has a makerspace bus.

Community connection

Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky, repurposed a bus for STEM activities, with activities such as coding, robotics and engineering. It turned another into a mobile registration center that travels the community to enroll incoming students.

Another two “Bus Stop Cafe” vehicles, which have been retrofitted as mobile cafeterias, roll out at lunchtime during the summer to provide free meals to low-income students.

“We really wanted it to look like a school bus because we have a lot of parents who don’t speak English, but when they see a school bus, that is something they trust,” says Terina Edington, assistant director for school and community nutrition services.

The Bus Stop Cafes, which cost $55,000 and $60,000 to retrofit, serve more than 45,000 summer meals that are paid for by the National School Lunch program. The alterations, which were done by district mechanics, included coolers, benches, a handwashing sink with gray water tank, and a retractable awning. New air conditioning units were purchased through a local RV dealership.

“The buses are excellent PR for our district as a whole,” says Edington. “We put the Bus Stop Cafe in the Pegasus Parade of the Kentucky Derby, so we’ll be going down Main Street here in Louisville and kids will yell, ‘That’s my bus! That’s the bus I eat on!’”