VIRGINIA BEACH — Following a lengthy discussion Tuesday evening, the city’s school board voted unanimously to authorize the use of city school buses for transportation needs at the “Something in the Water” festival.
City Council had already voted 8-1 on the matter earlier Tuesday.
School board members deliberated on the authorization — citing concerns for safety of the bus drivers and the students who will ride the buses Monday morning.
However, Mary Zepnikowski, president of an association for the city’s bus drivers, expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to drive the buses at the festival.
The bus drivers will have constant communication between support staff and the police department to ensure their safety, said David Pace, director of transportation.
He said he is confident the bus drivers will have no issue, many of the drivers that volunteered are part of the more senior portion of his staff.
Bus drivers will be paid $30/hour before 8 p.m. and $40/hour after 8 p.m. plus one hour to clean their buses, Pace said.
All costs associated with the agreement, including drivers, fueling, cleaning, administrative support and life cycle percentage, will be reimbursed by the festival, officials said.
Festival goers will also go through a security check before they enter the buses and again at the entrance to the festival, he added.
The authorization that was voted on left more room for flexibility than the original authorization statement did.
Instead of mandating that 70 buses be used for the weekend, the school board authorized the buses may be used, whatever that number may be.
There also was not set time frame stated in the authorization agreement but the school board said during their meeting that the buses would run until 11 p.m. on Sunday of the festival weekend.
The time frame is subject to change based on need, said Superintendent Aaron Spence.
“We are happy to again partner with our City and help make what will inevitably be a historic event for the community possible,” Spence said. “In reflecting on the positive impact this festival will have for Virginia Beach and ensuring better efficiency through this agreement, we can’t help but be proud to provide this service for attendees and fellow citizens.”
Spence said the generality in the authorization statement would allow the city and Pharrell Williams’ team to determine how many buses would be needed for that weekend.
The location for drop off and pick up has also changed to the Amphitheater because of concerns about weather at the original location on General Booth Boulevard, he said.
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This is not the first time school buses have been used by the city. In the past, school buses have been used during the activation of emergency shelters, for transportation to regional events such as OpSail and the Jamestown Settlement anniversary, officials said.
There will no smoking, drinking or drug use allowed on the school buses, and weapons will be prohibited. In addition, school bus drivers will be paid to thoroughly clean and inspect the school buses after the festival closes on Sunday.
Officials said if any damage is incurred to any of the school buses during the event, the school division will be reimbursed by the city, which will then be compensated by the festival.