ISD 166 explores purchasing propane school buses, replaces boiler, and prepares for graduation
Rhonda Silence

ISD 166 explores purchasing propane school buses, replaces boiler, and prepares for graduation

The school board met on April 20 to discuss the recent Professional Development Day for ISD 166 staff, approve a bid for the boiler replacement, provide updates on current school events and sports, and much more. 

During the meeting, the school administration shared an overview of the recent ISD 166 staff Professional Development Day held on April 7. The event was the 1st annual education summit that included twenty different sessions for Cook County educators to participate in and learn from colleagues. 

Some session topics included ‘How best to use Google Forms’, ‘How to use our student information system more effectively,’ ‘Debunking media about reading,’ and ‘How to teach reading in content areas, among many others. Chris Lindholm, the superintendent at ISD 166, said the event was “absolutely a blast.” He added, “Our staff in the results survey indicated that it was some of the most meaningful and impactful professional development they’ve been a part of in their whole career.”

Following the education summit for staff, the school held a career fair for the students at ISD 166 on April 14. Lindholm said more than 70 post-secondary students, businesses, and community members participated in the Cook County High School College Fair & Career Expo. “The turnout was excellent.”

“It was a great event,” Lindholm said. “We want to say thank you to the public to very many people, businesses, and organizations that took time to dedicate to our students.”

Boiler Replacement

The school buildings, including the YMCA, are heated by four propane 2,000,000 Btu boilers. Lindholm said the boilers have reached the end of their life and require replacement. ISD 166 reviewed five bids received from contractors to replace the boilers. Upon review of the submitted bids, the lowest bid by Bob Hecimovich Mechanical Contracting, Inc. (BHMC) was selected. BHMC submitted a bid for $524,900. 

Lindholm said the county helps cover 25% of energy costs. A portion of funding provided by the county will go towards the boiler replacement. In addition, the school collects revenue annually for long-term facility maintenance dollars. “Those dollars per statute cannot be used to build anything new,” Lindholm said. “And so we will be using most of our long-term facility maintenance dollars that we’ve put away or saved up.”

The school hopes to begin the replacement of the boiler once the snow and cold temperatures recede from northern Minnesota, sometime in early to mid-May. 

Propane-powered School Buses

Tom Nelson, with the facilities and transportation department at ISD 166, is currently investigating purchasing two or three propane school buses for ISD 166. The school is working with multiple vendors to determine whether or not propane is a suitable investment for the school. 

“We want to make sure that the buses we buy can handle the rigor and wear and tear of Cook County and along some of our long-term trips,” Lindholm said. 

Lindholm said propane school buses cost more than diesel buses, but the long-term savings and reduction of environmental impacts can be beneficial. He added that St. Louis County operates on 100% propane school buses. “So they’re a great resource for us.”

In 2021, St. Louis County schools used approximately 70,000 gallons of propane, resulting in a savings of nearly $240,000 for the school district, according to a case study conducted at St. Louis County school district by ROUSH CleanTech. The savings were a result of lower fuel and maintenance costs. The case study also states hundreds of school districts across the nation have reported savings of up to $3,700 per bus per year due to lower fuel and maintenance costs compared to diesel. 

In other school bus-related news, the Cook County schools recently received a $28,000 grant to equip each school bus with six cameras. Previously each school bus had three cameras. The cameras are instrumental in helping to address dangerous stop-arm violations. Lindholm said on April 14, the school district encountered another stop arm violation, and thanks to the cameras, the school was able to get a clear picture of the license plate and contact law enforcement. 

Lindholm said stop-arm violations are, unfortunately, becoming more common. “We’re just ecstatic that we can now fight it,” he said. “We’re going to get you. We’re going to catch you. And you’re going to get fined because we almost lost children last Friday, and we need to put a stop to that.”

Other School News

High school students and the prom committee are preparing for the upcoming May 6 Cook County High School Red Carpet Prom Night at Papa Charlie’s in Lutsen. The prom dance takes place from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. The grand march will be held at the high school before the dance at 7 p.m. 

Graduation is quickly approaching. The celebratory event will occur on June 3 at 1 p.m. in the Pam Taylor gymnasium. “We look forward to honoring each and every one of our students,” Lindholm said. 

WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke with Chris Lindholm, the superintendent at ISD 166, following the recent school board meeting. The audio from the interview is below.