News

From out of the basement comes old technology precticically for free

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

At least twice a year, Russ Bushaw finds himself in the basement at Panther Lake Elementary School.

Bushaw isn’t in trouble. His job that day is to sell as much of Federal Way Public Schools’ surplus property as he can so the district doesn’t have to pay more to dispose of it.

On the last Friday in March, in a space in Panther Lake’s basement about as big as a three-car garage, there were 15 pallets stacked about five feet high with computer monitors, processors and printers. In the rapidly changing technology world, all of the equipment is antiquated and some doesn’t work. All is being replaced through the school district’s technology levy that voters approved several years ago. Bushaw expects to see a few more surplus sales with several pallets of computers until the levy wraps up.

Other items such as televisions, arc welders and a drill press typically need work to get them in running order. Sometimes the machines are so old that finding parts is difficult and expensive. Light bulbs for overhead projectors can cost more than the projectors, for instance.

When the cost of the parts and the labor to repaira machine become more expensive than buying it, the machine finds its way to the Panther Lake basement.

During a tour of the surplus den, some of the desks looked pretty decent, while others were showing their age. A television cart looked stable until it was touched. It probably couldn’t support a couple gallons of milk, much less a TV.

The prices are about as good as they can be without being free. Computers were $5, textbooks 25 cents each. Bushaw gauges the prices based on what he sees at the state surplus yard in Auburn.

When the sale at Panther Lake started at 9 a.m., the early birds were there just like at Saturday garage sales. The good stuff goes quickly. All sales are as is –– no refunds.

The early birds are typically parents who homeschool their children and are looking for textbooks and desks, or machinery-oriented people looking for a deal, Bushaw said.

A woman who identified herself only as an employee at Silver Lake Elementary School bought a small stack of math and science textbooks. She wanted them as references when her own children ask her questions about the subjects, she said.

Another woman spent more than an hour picking over the computers, pulling out pieces here and there.

Bushaw said that a few years ago, computers would have gone quickly because scroungers were looking for parts and cobbling together new silicon creations. Now a new computer is so inexpensive, even the “computer gurus” don’t want the surplus ones, he explained.

A purchaser for the school district, Bushaw said managing the sale is a small part of his overall job. He’s been running it for seven years and seen some interesting stuff come through the door. One year, a school got rid of its gymnastic balance beams, which were chipped and cracked. Another year, Bushaw was a customer when he bought a kettle drum with a torn skin and turned it into a planter in his yard.

There’s also nostalgic items, Bushaw said. Phonographs, cassette players and even a few eight-tracks have made their way into the basement.

Large items like cars and buses go to the state’s surplus auction yard in Auburn.

When a school decides to get rid of property it doesn’t need, Bushaw makes sure it has a few chances to get back into the district before it goes up for sale. Since the surplus items are public property, the district must advertise in the newspaper and make the sale open to the community. But a few days earlier, Bushaw lets schools and teachers go over what’s in the basement. While one school might not need a few chairs, for example, another could really use them.

More than 20 teachers this year took away several bookcases for their classrooms. The district doesn’t charge if what is being taken goes back into classrooms.

What isn’t sold is taken away by salvage companies, or, in the case of the computers, by a disposal service that charges $10 a computer monitor.

Once, a woman criticized the district for selling the computers so cheap –– until Bushaw explained to her the disposal cost. Better to make the district $5 selling a computer than paying $10 to get rid of the junk, he reasoned.

Metal items are hauled away by salvagers, and books are carted off by another contractor, he said.

In another six months or so, it will be time for another sale.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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