Lawrence City Commission to consider $4.5 million bus facility at Tuesday’s meeting

Lawrence transit leaders say a plan for a new $4.5 million joint maintenance facility may be the most important step yet in making the city and Kansas University’s bus systems operate as one.

Now, city commissioners have to decide whether the deal also is a financial winner for the city.

At their meeting Tuesday, commissioners will consider approving an agreement with KU that would allow the university to begin work on a new bus maintenance facility in a northern Lawrence industrial area that houses Reuter Organ, Berry Plastics and others.

“The No. 1 thing this is about for us is coordination,” said Bob Nugent, the city’s public transit administrator. “It is very hard for us to coordinate the way we want to right now.”

Currently, KU and the city share a joint maintenance facility near 31st and Haskell, but the facility has just two maintenance bays for 75 buses. The new facility would have six bays and adequate office space that would allow KU and city transit operations to be side-by-side.

But the project will require the city to sign off on a sophisticated cost-sharing arrangement that has the city bringing more money to the project than KU, even though the university will be the ultimate owner of the building and will house twice as many buses at the facility.

Here are the details:

• The city will pay KU $1.39 million in lease payments over a 10-year period to help pay for construction of the building and purchase of the 13-acre site. The federal government reimburses the city for about half of those lease payments.

• KU will make $1.67 million worth of payments during the same time period.

• The city will use $2 million worth of federal stimulus dollars to help pay for the project. Technically, the stimulus dollars cannot go directly to the building project. Therefore, the stimulus dollars will be used to purchase six buses for KU. KU then will use $1.38 million it had set aside for bus purchases to go toward the cost of the construction. If the city does not contribute the $2 million, the city lease rate to KU will increase by $250,000 per year.

• In total, the city — through local dollars and federal money it receives — will put $3.39 million toward the project, while KU will pay $3.05 million. KU is expected to have about 50 buses at the facility. The city is expected to have about 25.

City staff members are urging commissioners to accept the deal. Transit leaders estimate the deal will result in the city saving about $400,000 in local funds over the course of 10 years compared with what they pay to lease space at 31st and Haskell.

Nugent said he’s comfortable using the $2 million in stimulus funds because the city no longer needs the funds to replace the city’s current fleet of 12 fixed-route buses. The city has a plan in place to use $3.11 million in federal grants and $187,000 in local funds to purchase the 12 buses over the next several years.

“The stimulus dollars really were unanticipated dollars,” Nugent said of the money that must be used for bus purchases. “I don’t really know what else we would do with that money at this point.”

Mayor Rob Chestnut said he’s looking favorably upon the deal, although he wants more details about how the specific site was selected by KU.

He said it is likely the city’s operating costs will end up dropping by more than transit leaders expect, if the city and university are able to better work together.

“I think it ultimately makes a lot of sense to have a combined facility in terms of logistics,” Chestnut said.

Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.