A $4.6 million project will give the rapidly growing Higley Unified School District its first transportation center. Just a few years ago, in 2003-04, Higley had 4,500 students and 24 buses. Today, the district has 10,000 students and 61 buses.
The new center will give the 85 employees in the transportation department a place to work inside - most of their work is done outdoors now - with service bays with hydraulic lifts, a bus washing area, office space and a break room.
The center, planned to open in May, is being built on 5 1/2 acres next to Williams Field High School, 2140 S. Higley Road, Gilbert. The ceremonial groundbreaking was Thursday.
It's being paid for through voter-approved bond funds, said Fred Stone, executive director of support services.
Buses are now maintained in portable trailers behind Higley Elementary and Middle School. The district leases land from Union Pacific Railroad, said Josh Crosby, Higley's director of maintenance, operations and transportation.
Mechanics work on the buses outside under a canopy.
"In the summertime when it's hot, it's miserable working on the buses outside," Stone said. "This is just going to be a real treat."
There will also be space for tool and tire storage, as well as an area to work on the engines of the district's tractors, weed eaters and mowers, Stone said.
"It gives our transportation employees a work area that is safe and protected from the elements and will serve the district for the next 40 to 50 years," Stone said.
The center will also have fuel pumps. This will save the district time by fueling on district land and save money since fuel can be bought in bulk, Crosby said.
"There's just a lot of pros to it," he said.
There will be a large parking lot big enough to park the district's 61 buses and more than 100 spaces for employees. Buses now park on gravel behind Higley Elementary, which takes away space for staff and parents and causes traffic congestion, Stone said.
"I know bus drivers are going to be excited to have a real place for them to park," Stone said. "It will also be real nice for Higley Elementary School to make it a much-improved parking area to get cars off Vest Avenue."