Thanks for the input everyone!
great notes on where the rust "canaries" are - rust on the door and stairwell was a big piece of why we rejected a very similar '03 on the same lot.
@CaptSquid - Thanks for the midwest suggestion - unfortunately, all their current inventory busses are too big for what we're planning
We're in western PA - so as @Jatzy mentioned - lots of salt = undercarriage rust. I uploaded a picture of the stairwell to the original gallery, and the best picture I have of the interior wheel wells. Or did you both mean the exterior portion of the wheel wells? No close up pictures there, but to the best of my memory, they looked pretty good.
Thanks @turf for the tip on where to find the rear axel ratio - we've been wondering about that. We have some concerns about the T444e (vs DT466 or DT360) in terms of power, since we're planning to drive this over mountains, but our current thinking is that if the T444e is used (sometimes) in full size buses, we should be OK with it in a half bus as long as we're smart about the build out.