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Unit 5 Retains First Student Bus Company For One Year

The Unit 5 school board is sticking with its sometimes-frustrating bus service for one more year. The board Wednesday approved retaining First Student in a short contract.

First Student Area General Manager Chris Coyle said from November on, on-time performance hovered around 95%, the company goal.

"There's just a lot of variables that we encounter; traffic on the road, weather, students that are not ready, and we wait to get them," said Coyle.

Coyle said on-time performance has gone better since November and now sits at 96.8%. Coyle said First student defines "on-time" as more than five minutes before the bell to start class. Bus GPS systems and software track that performance. First Student operates 132 routes each school day.

"We're definitely moving in the right direction," said Coyle.

The company has had driver shortages for years that hurt on-time performance and led to parent appearances at board meetings.

"We have battled the driver shortage all year. We're sitting at only three drivers down from having a full complement. I think that was definitely the key," said Coyle.

Coyle said an app for parents and other communication improvements are also making a difference from the start of the year.

"With driver tablets, it allows us to have the flexibility of turn-by-turn directions on the route," said Coyle.

He said the company will have a meeting March 10 to review its communications plan and find out what we can do better.

Unit 5 also said the additional year will allow a new superintendent to come on board and make her own assessment of conditions.

The rate for the contract has gone up 3.75%.

Kingsley Geothermal Project 

The Unit 5 board also approved spending $2.7 million at Kingsley Junior High School to install a geothermal system and renovate the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. According to the board packet, the winning bidder, A & R Mechanical Contractors of Urbana, recently completed a $750,000 energy efficiency project at Kingsley and is familiar with the structure. The bid was $282,000 less than the next lowest bidder.

Kingsley was built in 1953, and Unit 5 said a study has identified significant safety concerns. The district said the baseline energy use for the 156,000-square-foot building is currently $282,440 per year.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.