MOORHEAD — After years of plugging in buses overnight and arriving before sunrise to start them in freezing temperatures, Moorhead school bus drivers have been brought relief from the cold by a newly-renovated and expanded school operations center.

Drivers on Wednesday, Dec. 11, were able to avoid what has been a part of their winter routine for years — getting diesel buses that used to be parked outside started and running for morning routes in sub-zero temperatures. Moorhead Area Schools contracts with three bus companies but also has 30 buses and 23 drivers who now are based in the building.

With bright lights and a warm temperature, the new space feels and looks more like a school bus dealer showroom than a garage. The rest of the facility will eventually be home to foodservice and the school district office.

Moorhead Schools Transportation Director Mike Steffen calls the new building a "total relief." Diesel engines get "cranky" in the cold, he explained, and the opening this week of the new 51,000-square-foot facility couldn't have been better timed.

Last year at this time, there was a row of outlets and a circuit for every bus in an outdoor lot. Every bus was plugged in overnight, and at 5:30 a.m. a group would show up, hand out keys and get all the buses started.

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Drivers like Travis Schenck of Hawley, Minn., can now just roll right into the heated garage and not worry about whether their buses will start in the morning in freezing temperatures.

"People would come in and start everyone's buses because they had to run a good hour so we didn't leave the parking lot freezing," Schenck said. "Now we don't have to freeze, it is a lot nicer."