Neighbors near Quincy’s school bus barn want to address backup alarm noise

Rossmiller on front step

Leroy Rossmiller stands on the steps leading to the front porch at his home on Hampshire Street in Quincy. In the background are the buses parked at the Quincy School District's bus barn.

QUINCY — Leroy Rossmiller enjoys sitting on the front porch of his home on Hampshire near the middle of the double-block between 20th and 22nd streets.

The wood floor squeaks softly as he leans back in his rocking chair, and the leaves rustle softly in the early morning breeze.

And then the buses start moving and beeping.

“The noise level is a mental anguish,” Rossmiller said.

Rossmiller lives in a residential neighborhood about a block east of the Quincy School District’s bus barn, a facility on the southwest corner of 20th and Hampshire. After owning and operating Underbrink’s Bakery for 27 years, Rossmiller wants to spend his retirement years enjoying a quiet life at his home of 30 years.

However, he says it’s not possible. Alarms on the district’s school buses sound when they back up. They disturb Rossmiller throughout the day when school is in session.

“They start at 7 in the morning and go ’til 4:30,” he said. “There’s like a 45-minute period in the morning. Then there’s a flurry from about 10:30 or 11 (in the morning) ’til one (in the afternoon). Then there’s another flurry from 2:30 to 4:30.

“Say you want to come outside. I like to garden. I have flowers everywhere. I can’t come outside and predictively be able to work in my yard for more than 10 minutes. Here comes a bus. Once something like that gets under your skin, it’s right there.

“There may be as many as four of them trying to get in there at once. When one of them is halfway back in the parking lot and another one is starting back in the parking lot and another one is starting in, it sounds like a calliope. And when you’re sitting right here, you might as well be sitting in that parking lot. That’s how loud those things are. It’s just insanely loud.”

Taking petition to City Council

It’s why Rossmiller has been circulating a petition from much of the summer asking the Quincy School District to move the buses. He plans to take that petition with 50 signatures to Monday’s meeting of the Quincy City Council.

In addition, he has a sign in his front yard that simply says “Move The Buses.”

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires back-up beepers on industrial vehicles. The website noted former Boston Globe and Associated Press columnist James Donohue once wrote, “The grating sound of these beepers is battering peace and solitude for people everywhere there is construction work, trash being picked up or school buses carrying children. It goes on all days, most days of the week.”

The number of buses with backup alarms has grown gradually in Quincy the past few years. The school district leases its buses. When new buses with the alarms are added to the fleet, they are replacing buses without the alarms.

Mike Troup, a member of the Quincy School Board until he became the city’s mayor in May, says no city noise ordinances are being broken.

“it’s an issue for the schools, not the city,” he said.

Moving all buses to Flinn ‘adds cost to district’

Troup said he met with Rossmiller when he was a member of the School Board’s Building and Grounds Committee.

“I also talked with some of the other neighbors, and I learned that (the noise) is something,” Troup said.

He thought the fix was simple. The school district houses about a third of its buses at the bus barn and the rest at the Flinn Stadium parking lot. The idea of moving all the buses to Flinn was offered, leaving the bus barn as the site where buses were maintained.

“The problem is that (proposal) actually adds cost to the district,” Troup said. “Because of driving back and forth (from the bus barn to Flinn) or having another vehicle transport drivers, the schedule never works out where it’s like, ‘OK, this bus is ready, so let’s bring in another one.’”

Rossmiller says he also has met with Richard McNay, another member of the School Board, and with Jeff Mays, a former School Board member now serving as the director of administrative services for the city. He doesn’t believe those discussions were fruitful. 

Webb: School district wants to be good neighbor

Superintendent Roy Webb said the reverse alarms can’t be dismantled while the buses are in the bus barn parking lot. So he’s open for ideas.

“There’s nothing off the table. We continue to explore options,” he said. “To build a new bus barn is significant dollars, right? We also use that (building) for administrative offices. We use it to store buses. We use it for our bus mechanic bays. So it’s set up to work on the buses. It’s a break area for our drivers. It’s administrative communications for our drivers. Out at Flinn, we have a little space that’s smaller than my office.

“We always want to be a good neighbor. … If someone calls us with a concern, I don’t think we ever just don’t want to do anything. We always want to try to work with them. We would love to have a consolidated space where we had all our buses in one location, a nice area for our bus drivers, a place for our mechanics, our administrative offices. (Transportation) is one of our biggest departments. I don’t think we have the space out at Flinn.”

Webb said a new bus garage has been discussed and would cost between $1.5 million and $2 million. 

“How do we secure funding? Where is it going to be located? What is the environmental impact?” he said. “Have we jumped on that right away? You know, I’m guilty. It’s not been on my front burner for the last 16 months (referring to dealing with COVID-19 issues in the district).”

Neighbor across street says sound ‘definitely is excessive’

Jessica Dedert lives with her husband and two children on the northeast corner of 20th and Hampshire, just a few yards from the bus barn. She says as a parent she has become pretty good at blocking out noise.

“I can drive down a highway with a 2-year-old screaming for two hours because I can focus on the driving,” Dedert said. “I could be reading something, and my family could be talking to me, and until they come up and touch me to get my attention, I haven’t heard anything.

“So when I am trying to help my son with math and history, and we are sitting inside in this little alcove … (the sound) definitely is excessive.”

She said the noise from the bus barn was not this bad when her family moved into the neighborhood 10 years ago. 

“Now, it starts about 7:15 (in the morning) and they don’t stop until about 20 (minutes) after 9,” she said. “Then a little before noon, (the buses) would go back out, so for about 45 minutes to an hour, you hear more beeping. And then, of course, from about 2:15 to 4:30, it’s more of the same. That hour from 3 to 4 is just constant.”

Rossmiller said a neighbor who gives music lessons must schedule them around the noise from the bus barn. Dedert said another neighbor had a family member who was ill but could not sleep during the day because of the backup alarms. The noise at the bus barn starts an hour earlier than normal on really cold days when the bus has to warm up the engine and the cabin.

“The neighbors I have spoken with have said, ‘Isn’t this, you know, annoying?’” Dedert said. “It’s so loud. It’s disrupting. I’m trying to work out in my garden with my flowers, and all I hear is this beeping.

“I hate to put words in other people’s mouths, but I would say that if (the bus barn) was no longer here, the general feeling of the neighborhood would be relief. It would be like, ‘OK, we don’t have to deal with that anymore.’”

Rossmiller’s determination to find a resolution for this issue is evident when he talks about it.

“I’m really the only rabble rouser in this thing, which I take on with relish,” he said. “Power doesn’t do what you ask them. Power does what you tell them.

“We haven’t reached the point where I can hold their feet to the fire, but the School Board has failed to put any importance on the damage they’re doing to this neighborhood.”

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