Like the mythological phoenix, a new plan for Exeter School District’s controversial bus garage has risen from the ashes.

The school board reviewed the scaled back plan for a district transportation facility Sept. 8 at its regularly scheduled monthly workshop.

The virtual meeting was broadcast live and can be watched on the district’s YouTube channel.

Project designers Phillip M. Leinbach and Peter A. Meckley of AEM Architects, Exeter Township, presented the plan to the school board.

The team reviewed the proposal with the district’s facilities committee last month.

The plans can be viewed and downloaded at the district’s boarddocs.com site.

Dubbed the “Garage Mahal” by opponents, the former proposal was criticized for its size, amenities and estimated cost. That plan was denied approval for a special exception by the Exeter Township Zoning Hearing Board in August 2015.

Zoning officials ruled a facility on the selected location along Boyertown Pike, or Route 562, was not an accepted use of the land.

The school district argued that the new facility should be allowed on the property as an accessory use of the adjacent Owatin Creek Elementary School. The district filed two lawsuits in Berks County Court in October 2015: a zoning appeal and a declaratory judgment to assert the district’s right to decide where public school facilities are constructed.

Both were denied and the project languished.

"The hope is that there is a more positive approach with the Zoning Hearing Board (this time)," Leinbach said.

The architect reviewed with the board changes in the scope of work from the original 2015 proposal, including the addition of an LP fueling station at a cost of $175,000, elimination of wash bay equipment for a savings of $260,000, decrease in the size of the building to 9,950 from 12,400 square feet, change in the roof line from double pitch to single slope and elimination of radiant heat in the floor.

Despite the smaller size and scrapping of some features for cost savings, the overall estimate to build the structure is $4.2 million, a significant increase over the $3.4 million estimated in 2015. The difference is due to adjustments for inflation, Leinbach said.

Leinbach also presented a timeline for planning and construction phases should the district decide to proceed.

It could take three to six months for required township, county and other reviews and permitting. The bidding process and construction could take another eight or more months, he said.

According to the school district’s website:

The district has owned its bus fleet and existing bus facility at Shelbourne and Kerr roads since 1974.

Earlier, Wayne Weiand, a private bus contractor, had provided transportation for the district. When he retired, the school district bought his fleet and business property. A maintenance bay, office, driver's room and parts storage area were added to the existing small building at that time.

When the district's existing bus garage was built in 1974, the fleet was composed of two vans and 30 buses, with one having the capacity for 72 passengers and most for 66 passengers.

The fleet has grown since then to include 12 student vans and 50 school buses, the largest two with the capacity for 90 passengers.

The bus facility is used to conduct state required inspections of all district transportation vehicles every six months and vehicle maintenance and repairs.

The district’s transportation department has 76 full- and part-time employees, including drivers, bus aides for special needs, mechanics, two supervisors and a custodian.

Speaking at previous facility committee meetings, transportation employees have said the current facility lacks adequate restrooms and waiting area for employees, and does not meet the department's needs for maintaining and storing vehicles.

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