A small bus formerly used to transport seniors is being repurposed to serve people with special needs or disabilities in the Vernon Hills area.
Declared surplus after the village of Vernon Hills switched to a taxi-type program to shuttle seniors, the eight-seat bus recently was gifted to the Special Recreation Association of Central Lake County.
“It definitely was something that we needed to fill a void,” said Tim Nockels, president of the SRACLC Foundation, the organization’s fundraising arm.
The organization is composed of seven entities — park districts from Grayslake, Mundelein and Vernon Hills, as well as the villages of Lincolnshire, Hawthorn Woods, Libertyville and Lake Zurich. It is headquartered in Hartmann Park on Oakwood Road in Vernon Hills.
The village for decades had offered a senior shuttle bus service. But in fall 2019, it piloted a taxi service in which the village pays the first $6 of travel cost per rider.
“It has cut down our costs probably by half and has increased the usage level,” said Village Manager Mark Fleischhauer.
Once the wrinkles were worked out and the program became well established, the bus, a 2016 Ford E350 with 56,527 miles on it, became expendable.
“The bus was still under warranty,” Fleischhauer said. “We could have sold it, but the board was in agreement to donate it.”
In a letter of interest to the village, recreation association Director John Buckner said transportation is essential to making the organization’s programs available to as many residents as possible.
Because the vast majority of adult participants don’t drive, many of the experiences wouldn’t be available without it, he added.
Another goal is to make as many activities as possible accessible.
“While we do currently have the ability to transport people in wheelchairs, the smaller vehicle (from the village) would enable us to make more appropriate and economical scheduling decisions,” Buckner wrote.
The recreation association recently took possession of the bus and is adding its logo to it.
One aspect that has carried over is a tribute to Cecil Blevins, an Army veteran who drove the senior citizens bus in Vernon Hills for 20 years after retiring from a career in construction. His name is printed on a passenger’s-side window.