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Pinellas auction gives old school buses a second chance

Buyers snap them up for use by charter schools, after-school programs, churches and camps. Some turn them into small homes.
Auctioneer Frank Gray takes bids on one of the 34 buses auctioned by the Pinellas County School District on Saturday.
Auctioneer Frank Gray takes bids on one of the 34 buses auctioned by the Pinellas County School District on Saturday. [ PAUL GUZZO | Times ]
Published Feb. 29, 2020

LARGO — As transportation director for Tampa’s Extreme Youth Sports & Enrichment Center, Gerald Kirschner is charged with ensuring that more than 100 children are driven from their elementary schools to the after-school program.

“We have a few vans and a bus,” Kirschner said. “We need a new bus.”

He had plenty from which to choose on Saturday morning.

The Pinellas County School District auctioned 34 used buses, mostly dating to 2002, at their Walter Pownall Service Center Annex, 7955 118th Ave. N in Largo.

Around six dozen potential buyers were there in person while an unknown number made live online bids.

The school district’s last auction with an in-person component was around five years ago, estimated Joe Zihala, the warehouse manager for Pinellas County Schools.

Since then, items have been auctioned only online.

“We thought we’d try a new method this time,” Zihala said.

That’s because of the volume of buses available.

The school district keeps buses for around 18 years, Zihala said, and “somewhere in the vicinity of 250,000 miles. This is one of those cycle times when a certain fleet reached the 18-year mark, so we gathered them up from different compounds.”

There were other items up for auction — electronics, pianos and even telephone poles.

But the buses were the star of the show.

Arthur Avery, owner of Avon Park’s A&A Used Buses and Trucks, travels the southeast in search of such vehicles to purchase, restore and re-sell.

How many did he hope to purchase on Saturday?

“All of them,” he said with a smirk.

The most-driven bus had 304,727 miles on it and the least driven, 133,209 miles.

Auctioneer Frank Gray said used school buses are coveted for several reasons.

“Churches, charter schools, camps all want them,” he said. “I’ve seen old school buses used for orange picking groves. One unique trend is taking buses and turning them into tiny homes.”

Bus salesman Avery agreed.

“Whenever there is something on the news about the trend,” he said, “people buy them for small homes.”

Glenn Hayes was at the auction with his wife and two teenage daughters. He hoped to pick one up at a bargain price and convert it into an RV.

“It will take a year or so to finish,” he said. “I’d like to drive it out to the west coast for a family trip.”

But he was not among those who went home with a school bus.

Gerald Kirschner calls Tampa’s Extreme Youth Sports & Enrichment Center to inform them that he purchased them a used bus at an auction held by the Pinellas County School District.
Gerald Kirschner calls Tampa’s Extreme Youth Sports & Enrichment Center to inform them that he purchased them a used bus at an auction held by the Pinellas County School District. [ PAUL GUZZO | Times ]

Kirschner of the after-school program succeeded in his quest.

For $4,000, he purchased one that had traveled around 245,000 miles.

Bus salesman Avery did not buy all of them, as planned, but did walk away with 16, nearly half. Overall, he spent around $38,000.

Scott Greg of Ocala, who also purchases and resells used school buses, added 11 to his fleet for around $26,000.

All but one bus was sold.

In total, the buses earned the school district around $80,000.