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Sunflower sees GB as transportation hub
Commission backs grant to expand SDS transportation service
sunflower bus
Shown is one of the vehicles used by Sunflower Diversified Services for its general transportation program. The County Commission approved letters of support for Sunflower and the Rosewood Roots and Wings Foundation, backing grants for transportation efforts in the area. - photo by Tribune file photo

Sunflower Diversified Services wants to provide transportation services to a larger swath of Central Kansas, and asked the Barton County Commission to back this vision, which it did.

Commissioners approved a letter of support backing the agency’s application for a Kansas Department of Transportation grant. If received, this would enable Sunflower to expand its general transportation program, said SDS Executive Director Jon Prescott.

“There is a big need,” he said. 

Using eight buses, Sunflower currently provides Barton, Pawnee, Rush, Rice and Stafford counties with public and medical transportation. The agency has identified grant funding that would allow for expanding the fleet to 14 buses and adding connecting services to Ellis, Reno, Saline and Pratt counties, Prescott said.  

But, “that’s long term, not today,” he said. This new grant would help fund the construction of a transportation facility behind Sunflower’s recycling center at 5532 10th St. in Great Bend.

This structure would include 14 bus bays, a wash bay, office space and other features, he said. It will require city (the request was also on the Great Bend City Council agenda Monday night) and state regulatory approval, and may be two or three years from completion.

The total cost of a facility and equipment needs has been calculated at $1,135,000. This letter backs the application for a 90/10% match KDOT grant.  

If the grant is approved, Sunflower would be required to provide a $113,500 match, Prescott said. 

Prescott sees Great Bend as becoming a hub for such services. When up and running, it would provide jobs for a mechanic, dispatcher and drivers, in addition to opportunities for Sunflower clients.

They want to increase use by riders in Stafford County, and perhaps promote this as a means for employees from that area to fill jobs in Great Bend.

“I really like this long-term planning,” commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz said. “This is really exciting.”

The grant application is due by December and Sunflower should find out if it is awarded the funds by January, Prescott said.

Continuing service

The new grant was the second support letter the commission approved for Sunflower. The first was for a KDOT grant to continue the operation of its general public transportation (GPT) system. The funds would be for operating assistance. 

“With unknown economic projections, it is crucial that we can demonstrate a need for continuation of these services and seek government grant funding,” Prescott said. “Therefore, we are requesting a letter of support for our efforts to submit with this grant proposal.” 

Sunflower currently provides services seven days a week in the hub area of Great Bend and five days weekly to all other county destinations, to meet the requests of the passengers. Sunflower provided 49,203 rides in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush, and Stafford counties from July 2018 through June 2019, transporting workers, shoppers, and medical patients to and from their homes to chosen destinations within those five counties. 

The mileage providing those trips with a fleet of eight vehicles was 336,648 with costs of $481,479. Fare income direct from passenger’s covered only $90,641 of the costs of providing this service. 

Additionally, it provides services to elderly and disabled clientele whose needs cannot be met through the GPT system with two vehicles through a separate grant from KDOT which provided 3,516 rides and traveled 19,450 miles, with the cost reimbursed $7,143. 

“In order to continue these much-needed services to local citizens, supplemental funding is needed,” he said. “We believe that, with KDOT’s funding support, we can continue to address the expanding needs of area riders and anticipate continued services in the future.”

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:

• Approved a letter of support for Rosewood Roots and Wings Foundation for a Kansas Department of Transportation grant application. This would be used to continue the operation of their public transportation system by adding a third KDOT-funded 14-passenger vehicle, said Howard Partington, foundation management consultant.

Last year, the vehicle cost $60,000. This year, the cost jumped to $63,000, he said.

The total grant would be $64,475, which includes a lift and other additional features. It is an 80/20% grant with Rosewood responsible for $12,915.

• Approved a letter of support for Sunflower Diversified Services, also for a KDOT grant application. This would be used by Sunflower to operate its general public transportation system, said Sunflower Executive Director Jon Prescott.

• Approved a second letter of support for a Sunflower application for a KDOT grant to expand its bus fleet.