On Saturday, Whanganui's library "bus" made its last outing.
The purpose-built mobile library has been replaced with two Mercedes-Benz Sprinters, kitted out to perform the same function, but with more versatility.
Pete Gray, Whanganui District Council libraries and community manager, says the 17-year-old bus was due for replacement.
The vehicle was built as a mobile library in 2003 by Kiwi Bus Builders in Tauranga, taking a large truck chassis and building a library on top of it. It is now for sale.
"The reasons for replacing it with the two vans are several: one is you need a Class 2 licence to drive it. We have had occasions where one of our drivers has been on leave and the other one falls sick. Then there's no one to drive the bus so it doesn't go out."
The vans can be driven by anyone with a car licence (Class 1).
"The vans can get to places that the bus can't get into."
Another reason: "It's about half the cost. Between the two vans we're carrying more stock and we have more seating. The way we've set them up is that they'll be more specialised in their usage."
One will focus on services to children and will be visiting schools, early childhood education centres and children's events. The other will focus on street stops and going to retirement homes and villages. Both vans are high, with loads of head space.
"They'll be able to go to places like up the Whanganui River Rd, where we've never been able to go with the bus.
"We've called them Van 1 and Van 2 since the beginning. We have now formalised that … not only are they named Tahi and Rua, but their number plates are as well."
Pete says he looked at almost every make and model of van available before choosing the Sprinters.
"They're all made overseas, most of them in Europe, and we needed them to be as big as possible. We've gone for the extra-long wheelbase model, the longest you can get, with the super-high roof.
"They also came with a lot of optional add-ons you can get at the time of manufacture, like electric sliding side door, electric additional step, 360 degree camera, collision warning, blind spot assist … every safety feature that was available, we got."
With a cheaper vehicle, the safety options would have been after-market add-ons, which would have been more expensive.
"It's taken a long time to get to this point. They were ordered in December 2018. They arrived in New Zealand from Germany about 11 months ago. Then we had to get all the electrical work done on them … they've got solar panels on the roof which will do some trickle charging of the battery when they're out."
Then there were internal fit-outs and final design to make them fit for purpose.
"We did get a couple of grants toward the purchase of the vehicles, from Four Regions Trust and from Lion Foundation."
That was a total of $40,000 in grants.
Covid-19 slowed things down, but finally, last Friday, the vans were blessed and "launched" by John Maihi and mayor Hamish McDouall.
"Literacy is so important," said the mayor. "It is the building block of most knowledge. Reading matters, and it matters to get these out to the kids to make sure they engage with books and get to love books as much as I did."
Pete Gray thanked the contractors for finishing off the vehicles, as well as Nicholas Keene, Frontline services manager, and Sonny Tamehana, performance manager, for all their work. It was Sonny who designed the interior and the outside graphics.
"They were inspired by photographs and literary figures," says Sonny. "There are literary references and a lot of Whanganui references, but people don't realise until we explain it to them. It's all very subtle."
More pictures, page 14