AKRON, Ohio — Akron Public Schools are stepping into this upcoming school year with some new tools to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The district is the first in Ohio to install sanitizing misters in its fleet of buses.
The misters are manufactured by Michigan-based Transit Safety Solutions Plus. Bill Andexler, the transportation coordinator for the district, said the company sent a letter to nearly all of the state's school districts earlier this year advertising the system. Andexler said he researched the system and was impressed.
“As soon as I saw what it was doing I said, 'you know, pretty much, we've got to have this,'” said Andexler.
The district used federal pandemic funds to pay for the $200,000 installation costs on all 100 buses in its fleet. An additional $330,000 will pay for a 3-year supply of water-based disinfectant.
So far, crews have installed the system in 60 of Akron’s buses. The goal is to have it in all buses by the first day of school, Aug. 30.
The system consists of 22 nozzles spread out along the sides of the buses above the windows. Once activated, the nozzles will spray a mist of the water-based disinfectant that covers all of the seats.
Bus drivers will disinfect their buses at least twice a day—once after children are taken to school in the morning and again after they’re dropped off after school.
First, drivers will walk to the back of the bus, checking the seats for sleeping children. Once there, they will use a key to arm the system. Then, they’ll return to the front of the bus and push a button that activates the misters. Once that button is pushed, an alarm system will sound with a series of beeps, letting the driver know they have about 30 seconds to get out of the bus before the misters begin.
“We feel it's going to use less disinfectant, but the disinfectant that we're using is a better disinfectant. It’s not an alcohol base. Our old chemical’s an alcohol base. This is a water based system,” said Andexler. “And we had some issues with the alcohol base if the drivers would spray too much in a certain area, like around the dash area around the controls. We've had some, some of our dashes were damaged from it.”
Last year, bus drivers had to spray down their buses manually with one of the five spray wands the district had in stock. The alcohol-based disinfectant inside was effective, but hard for some drivers to tolerate, like Paulette Allen. She’s been a driver with the district for 34 years.
“These tend to be a little fumey, you know, so you kind of try to hurry up and do it and get off the bus,” said Allen about the old spray wands.
Allen drives special needs children to school, and she said she goes above and beyond to ensure they stay healthy.
“Well, with driving special needs children. You can't always get them to keep a mask on and so when I get on the bus and in the morning, even before I get on, I take wipes, and try to wipe down the handrails on my steering wheel and all the things I touch on my dash,” said Allen.
She said the new system is a breath of fresh air.
“From what I’m told, you don't even have to be on the bus when the other ones are going, so that'll be nice,” said Allen.
Andexler said now it will be easier to keep track of which drivers are disinfecting their buses because the system is hooked up to Bluetooth technology.
“Sometimes we're not sure if the drivers were doing it, but now we've made it simple, and it's very efficient,” said Andexler.
He said the pandemic has completely changed the way the district’s transportation department approaches caring for its bus fleet and its students while they ride to and from school.
“It's brought out a lot of things to us and it has shown us that we need to probably take care of the inside of the buses better than we've been doing. Someday, hopefully the masks will go away. But I think that keeping the buses disinfected inside is going to stay,” said Andexler. “Our point is if we can keep the mold and mildew, the bacteria, the viruses down, that's going to keep the kids in school more, they’re not going to be home sick. So if we can do our part on the buses that I know they're doing in the schools—they've changed their cleaning process in the schools—so why not bring it out to the buses too?”
Once Transit Safety Solutions Plus crews wrap up in Akron, they will be heading to Dayton to install mister systems on that district’s bus fleet.
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