September 20

The Hidden World of School Surplus

Last Updated on February 17, 2022

The saying goes something like, “One man’s loss is another man’s treasure.” Sometimes the loss is accidental, but sometimes intentional. That’s the case with school surplus, all those items a school no longer wants or needs, but something someone else could easily treasure. From desks and chairs to buses and computers, schools are recognized sellers for online auctions. Bidders far and wide vy for their chance to procure such items, for personal use at home or something useful for business. Reselling and repurposing could be options for you as well. If you’re looking to join this hidden world of school surplus then here are three ways to get started today.

School Bus RV Conversions

Most adults can think back to their childhood and recall riding in the big yellow school bus or even a city bus. Not nearly as many people can say that they converted a bus into an RV or camper. Greg Sullenberg isn’t most people.

“One of our most recent items purchased was a Gillig bus. Last year, I had been looking at a school bus that had just ended up on my computer, when my wife walked in. She said, ‘Are you buying a bus?’ and I said, ‘Thinking about it and converting it.’ I thought she would tell me I was crazy. To my surprise, she said, ‘Cool, let me know when another comes up.’”

“In November of last year, a Gillig city bus came up on Municibid. I mentioned it to my wife and we are now the proud owners of a Gillig city bus!”

Greg was an everyday guy who experimented with vehicle conversion. His experimental venture was a success and turned into fun for the whole family. They worked together, putting in hour after hour before finally turning their bus into a Disney-themed RV. Talk about a great way to take a family vacation!

School surplus - bus conversion (before)
School surplus - bus conversion (after)

Choosing between a bus or an RV

Buses are useful for children, but clearly they can be beneficial for families too. There is no surprise then that buses are one of the many items included in school surplus for others to repurpose. These conversions are not limited to family vacations either. Remote work and freelancing have made travelling while working much more possible. These “digital nomads” get to appreciate the lower costs (no mortgages) and minimalist lifestyle that comes with living in a camper. 

Prices have risen for new or even used RVs following the lockdowns and economic crash in 2020. This gives more reason to convert in today’s economy, as making your own RV instead of buying one will save a lot of money.

There are other benefits to choosing a bus over an RV aside from lower costs. This includes durability, size options, greater weight capacity, and customizability (Greg definitely gave his bus a creative spin). That last trait is one of the greatest for school buses. They can fit a full size fridge and bed because of the additional space and weight capacity. Owners can fashion a table, sofa, and other decor to their liking, even designing a play area for their kids. 

School buses are also designed to carry a lot of children safely, so their weight loading and safety features are greater than an RV. When damages occur, school buses are cheaper and easier to repair because manufacturers like Ford and GMC are well known brands with commonly available parts. There’s no need for a special RV mechanic.

Reselling or Repurposing for Small Businesses

Aside from school buses, there are other useful items that emerge from school surplus. Take radios for example, which are used by companies to keep open communication lines. Other surplus items include laptops, phones, tables, and chairs which are used to furnish offices. Restaurants, landscapers, and electronics stores are a few common businesses that purchase these materials. Depending on the company, they then make the choice of repurposing for their business or reselling.


Nearly a half a million restaurants in the US are independently owned and operated. These establishments have high costs with rising commercial rents, perishable inventory, and expensive kitchen equipment. Purchasing school surplus is one way they improve their thin margins. Deep freezers and refrigerators provide storage and temperature control for produce. Stainless steel tables provide new prep space. Kitchen hood vents provide ventilation. In retrospect, school surplus kitchen equipment is often a lifeline for these small businesses. Don’t be surprised if your school oven found its next home at your local bistro.

While restaurants often repurpose kitchen equipment, electronics stores purchase computers, laptops, and other items in bulk to refurbish and resell. Repair stores specifically buy used electronics for their parts, especially for antiquated devices that are no longer made.

Other businesses

Businesses use mowers, chippers, leaf vacs, and other landscaping equipment. Some vehicles such as golf carts are used by maintenance crews to easily transport tools and repair supplies across residential and academic campuses. Snow blowers and snow plows are used to clear business parking lots, sidewalks, and driveways.

You don’t need to be in a company with others to procure school surplus. Independent people make auctions bids too. Joseph Hymel is a prime example. He won five computers through his first auction, figured out how to repair them, and then made money through reselling.

“I decided without even knowing how to refurbish and repurpose computers to bid on and buy some computers. My first auction win had about five computers in it. After winning them I researched and learned how to make the machines like new and useable again.” 

School surplus - computer hard drives

Finding success as a bidder is definitely a numbers game, but not the number of employees in your company. And your success is dependent on knowing what kind of items you want to buy and how you can use that material. If you won an auction and are not sure what to do next, be like Joseph, do some research and figure out what the needs are in your community.

Creative Upcycling

What you think is junk can turn out to be another person’s hobby project. The widespread awareness of overflowing landfills and people’s own creativity has sparked upcycling. You only have to check Etsy to see the boundless creativity people have when repurposing unwanted furniture, trinkets, and odds and ends.

Aside from being read, books are upcycled into shelves, furniture, and art. Cafeteria tables and chairs are used for birthday parties and for arts and crafts projects. Furniture is fixed, sanded, and painted into beautiful chique cabinetry, desks, and storage. Auditorium benches, gymnasium flooring, and stadium bleachers are used by gyms and sports centers.

Projector screens, stereos, and audio systems can become a family’s new home entertainment system. Sports equipment, music instruments, art supplies, and lab equipment are useful for kids’ extracurricular activities. These items offer creative growth while being kind to parents’ wallets.

Ironically, one person that made use of this kind of surplus was a high school science teacher. His name is Lawrence Flint, and he sought out online auctions as a way of overcoming a classroom obstacle.

Lawrence Flint’s Story

“I am a high school science teacher and teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic was very challenging. I was required to teach five different science courses to students both in my classroom and at home simultaneously.”

“Teaching science is very visual and interactive. I needed a way to present written information as well as visual demonstrations to my live students and remote students simultaneously. It took me months of trial and error as well as lots of brainstorming to come up with the best way to meet the needs of all my students during this trying school year.”

School surplus - upcycling

“Municibid allowed me to bid on and win two Epson short throw projectors for the front of my room, saving me thousands of dollars. I was able to use an interactive tablet to display two screens of information to students in my class and my remote students simultaneously.”

“The feedback I got from students, parents, and administrators was excellent. I plan to incorporate the use of these two large projectors every year in the future.”

“Since teachers have to constantly innovate (often at their own expense), it’s sites like Municibid that allow us to take chances and eventually be successful in what we do.”

Lawrence makes clear, the benefits of using school surplus are seemingly limitless, as are the gains for potential customers of your business (children in your classroom)!

The Beneficial World of School Surplus

The aforementioned details outline the benefits of school surplus for the entire community. Old or young, business entrepreneurs or everyday people, we can all gain something through bidding. With the right plan and the right item, we each have the potential to make something out of online auctioning. The benefit doesn’t just rest with the bidders either. Schools also benefit by offering up their surplus.

“Like many school districts, we are often faced with very little storage area (to warehouse old furnishings and equipment) and ultimately the disposition of surplus property no longer serving the School District. Municibid has been the solution! The School District has successfully diverted it’s surplus either once slated for the landfill, or which would have brought in only pennies on the dollar if sold privately or traded in,” said Robert Schultz, employee of the Lower Merion School District Operations Department.

Sam Christy of Robotics Instructor Medford Vocational Technical High School said, “Municibid has enabled our school district to easily sell many thousands of dollars worth of equipment over the past two years. The staff has been incredibly responsive to any concern making sure that all sales transactions are accomplished with no problems. Our only regret is that we did not find Municibid sooner.”

Are you ready to start your own relationship with Municibid? There are many ways to support yourself, your business, and your community. The online auction marketplace has helped schools liquidate for 15 years. Find ways to sell your school surplus today. If you’re looking to purchase, then check out online auctions going on now.


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