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Old 08-17-2015, 10:58 AM   #1
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Converting school bus into mobile classroom

I work for a nonprofit organization in Bloomington, IN that would like to convert a former Head Start school bus that we already own into a mobile energy education classroom where we can teach people to do caulking, install programmable thermostats and do other home energy savings tasks. I'm struggling mightily to find anyone who can help me with what the ballpark cost of such a conversion might be and to find anybody interesting in possibly doing such work. I need to come up with a budget for this to put in a grant application ASAP. Any help or suggestions would be much appreciated!!! If it's easier to email me than to post something here, my email address is

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Old 08-17-2015, 11:10 AM   #2
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Make sure to read and understand the Rules of this forum in relationship to funding request etc
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Old 08-17-2015, 12:22 PM   #3
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Thank you for the welcome. Just to be clear, I'm not looking for any funding here. I'm just looking for advice as part of a writing a grant application for state funding. I work for a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization called South Central Community Action Program South Central Community Action Program. Our mission is to provide opportunities for low-income people to become more financially self-sufficient. As part of that, we provide home weatherization and energy education to help families reduce their utility bills, which is where the energy bus idea fits in.
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Old 08-17-2015, 01:05 PM   #4
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Take my bus as an example, I used all parts and pcs from box stores like lowes and home depot, I have no RV stuff in mine

I can replace everything in any town, also most is very durable, since they are used all day long at home

I would just make a spread sheet and pretend you are building a small house bedroom (sq footage etc) almost everything is by sq foot...or sq metric

start with say a metal shed and go from there using all current stuff availble

SO a basic quote should be easy to come up with

Is this what you are talking about?

if so read and see what folks are doing



remove seats
remove current floor
remove/convert rust
furring strips

walls same way


most of the expence will be labor, unless you go real high $$$$ on interior and exterior looks
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Old 08-17-2015, 01:20 PM   #5
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Ahh Bloomington. I spent summers and many moons around the Brown County area. The bluegrass festivals were huge in those days. My brothers went to IU as did some friends. Great school if you can't avoid too much partying. That is why I didn't go. I would have been too temped.
Good luck with your project!
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Old 08-17-2015, 04:08 PM   #6
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That's an interesting proposition and I wish I could help more with the estimating, but unfortunately I'm already drowning in my own ambition.. I'll throw out a few numbers with the hope that other members may call me out on anything I figured too low.

Anyway, it sounds like you want a box on wheels into which various exhibits, or perhaps DIY learn-by-doing stations, can be installed. It could be a cargo trailer, box truck, or.. gutted school bus. I'm not sure a school bus in inherently better suited for this kind of thing; its construction is so different to conventional US building that I guess you'll have to erect simulated home construction (2x4s, sheathing, drywall, leaky windows) inside the bus shell. If the school bus is just cheaper or more available than a trailer or box truck, then it makes sense (but keep in mind the school bus probably has the lowest ceiling of the three).

For the "empty box on wheels" part of the project:
  • a bus. $2-6k.
  • catch-up/preventative maintenance, initial repairs, etc.... maybe $1k? This expense is generally bigger when the bus price is smaller.
  • labor to gut the bus interior (ie, remove the seats and maybe the plywood and rubber floor). 8-20 relatively unskilled man-hours? Maybe you have volunteer labor available? More time if you want to remove the inner metal skin so that the bus shell can be insulated better.
  • heating and cooling for when the bus is open for showing. Maybe $1k each for 1-3 rooftop A/C units plus $4k for a generator to run them, and $2k for a Webasto coolant heater and use the heaters the bus came with. Plus labor costs for installation, if not done free by volunteers. If one of your exhibits involves a normal residential furnace or A/C system, you might actually install an LP-fueled furnace with A/C and ducts instead of the rooftop A/C and Webasto stuff. Still need a decent generator for running the A/C, whether it's rooftop or not.
No idea what you might have in mind for the exhibits.. aren't average US residential construction costs around $100-$150 per square foot now? Hopefully you can bring it in well below there. I guess you'd have to come up with some sketch of the specific construction you wanted and get bids from local builders.

It might be that you've been unable to get anybody to touch it because the bus folks like us aren't prepared to estimate costs for the exhibit portion, and those who could do the exhibit are uncomfortable estimating cost for the vehicle itself.
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Old 08-18-2015, 07:52 AM   #7
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I appreciate the responses. This is very helpful!! I'll be working on writing my proposal today and may have another question or two. Thank you very much!

Oh, and I meant to mention that, yes, we already own a couple of currently unused, but in good condition former Head Start buses, so that's why we're looking at using a bus rather than some other type of vehicle.
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