Bats, Infrastructure, and Lead Concern Students in Res Life

Sam Boudreau

News Editor

 

While working as a custodian over the summer at The College of Wooster, Debarghya Deb ’24 felt a sharp pain in his hand as he closed a window in Westminster Cottage. Deb looked behind a brick that held the window open. Behind the brick, he found a small and frightened bat.  “The bat bit me,” Deb said, “and I had to get like four shots of rabies.” 

Deb’s run-ins with bats did not stop there, as he now lives in Holden Hall, the epicenter of the College’s bat infestation. “I have seen many bats since I have moved in,” he said. 

Little Brown Bats (Myotis lucifugus) and Big Brown Bats (Eptesicus fuscus), have been the source of infestations in many residential halls and campus houses at the College. From the start of the semester to Sept. 2, The College received 40 cases of bat infestations in residential halls and campus houses. “The bat reports that we had have dropped significantly,” Director of Residence Life at the College Johnathan Reynolds said. “We have had a few, less than five, reports since Sept. 2.”

Due to these high numbers, the College held a “Student Conversation with Facilities” on Sept. 2. at Holden Hall’s courtyard. Mike Taylor, Associate Vice President of Facilities, Design and Construction; Mike Mathis, Manager of Services, Physical Plant, and Service Center; Tom Lockard, Service Center; Carly Jones, Housing Coordinator of Residence Life; and Reynolds discussed the College’s bat infestations with concerned students. 

At the meeting, Lockard and Taylor said the primary reason for bat infestations in residential halls is students leaving their room’s windows open without the screen window. “90 percent of the bats are due to windows and [student-installed] air conditioners,” Lockard said at the meeting. Lockard and Taylor said students need to submit a work order request, so maintenance can help fix window openings where bats may potentially enter the room and  identify other areas where bats may enter the room. 

“Bats in housing are not totally a student’s problem,” Taylor said, “we just need students’ help to solve this.”

At any time if a student notices structural problems or any other type problems they can submit a TMA Work Order Request through the link on the Facilities Management & Planning web page at inside.wooster.edu/facilities/. Students can also call the Service Center at 330-287-3500 (Monday to Friday between 7:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.) or call Campus Safety at 330-263-2590 (after 4:00 p.m. and weekends).

While students leaving windows open may lead to bat problems, residential halls with the most reports — Holden, Compton Hall, Kenarden Lodge and Wagner Hall — are all dorms without built-in air conditioning systems. When asked if there is a correlation between the lack of air conditioning units and increased bat reports, Reynolds answers affirmatively. “I would definitely say there is a correlation,” Reynolds said, “one of the things we have seen is that with the heat, students are wanting to open up their windows and put in their personal fans and, in some cases, personal AC units.” Reynolds said that installing personal AC units and fans may lead to a dislodged screen, a problem that dorms with central AC units, such as Bornhuetter Hall, Andrews Hall, Stevenson Hall and Armington Hall, do not have. 

At the meeting, Taylor said he understands that it is hot, but that students need to “balance” their comfort with helping to reduce bat infestations. “It’s been really hot and humid,” Taylor said, “but we got to balance comfort.”

Deb asked Taylor to what degree students living in older dorms need to compensate. “How much are we supposed to compensate?” Deb said. “We are paying the same amount for residence life as anyone else on campus.” 

While Holden Hall is in the College’s Master Plan to renovate, Taylor said at the meeting that “it is going to take time” to renovate the College’s largest residence hall. “There are two million square feet on this campus,” Taylor told Deb, “we really got to thoroughly plan what we renovate.” 

Criticism of the lack of residence hall renovations intensified with the College prioritizing the multi-million dollar Student Center transformation. “Holden is the biggest dorm and has the most people, and you treat them in the worst-possible way,” Deb said. “They’re renovating the Student Center right now, but, more than the Student Center, they need to renovate the older dorms like Holden.” 

Taylor listed the College’s most urgent problems in campus residential halls. 

“Most of the issues identified in our 2019 Facilities Condition Assessment (FCA), include aging roofing systems and aging building envelope systems,” he said. “When issues are discovered, the Facilities staff addresses those issues, or we secure the services of an outside company to help us address issues until full renovations can be scheduled over time.”

Campus Housing: Bats and Lead

The residents of Howell House, one of the College’s campus houses on Spink St., are no stranger to bats and out-of-date living conditions. “In our house, we actually have a board up with days since our last bat sighting,” said Lauren Kreeger ’23, a Howell House resident. Kreeger said that bats have been very prevalent in Howell House. “We’ve seen bats a lot,” Kreeger said, “It was at least once a day for a solid week.” 

Kreeger contacted the College’s Facilities Management and Planning, where they claim Tom Lockard denied the possibility of bats in the house. “He basically told us everything that we had observed was wrong,” Kreeger said. “He just did not do his job.” Kreeger and their housemates initially blocked off bat entries themselves. 

After meeting with Maintenance and ResLife, the College finally checked and identified the house for possible bat entries.

Additionally, Kreeger and their housemates cited structural issues with the house, including sewage problems, a hole in the shower wall and peeling paint on floors. 

“A lot of these things are things that could easily be prevented or would be fairly cheap to fix,” Kreeger said. 

Broadly, Kreeger and their housemates found a lack of communication with Facilities Management and Planning. “I do not think they listen to us,” Riley Maas ’22, a Howell House resident, said. “Maintenance does not treat us seriously.”

Lead in campus housing: 

While living in McDavitt House in Spring ‘21, Kreeger conducted an unofficial dust sample of the house for their petrology class. With the help of 360 Dust Analysis Program, a Citizen Science Project established by Macquarie University that “collects data on harmful chemicals in regular households,” Kreeger found “an abnormal amount of lead” in the house’s sample. “I think it had twice the natural soil limit,” they said. 

While the source of lead is unknown, Kreeger suspects the lead to be from the house’s paint. “That is what we think caused the elevated lead result,” they said, “ because there was paint in there, [such as] paint dust, paint chips, something like that.” 

Mike Taylor said that if there is lead in campus houses, then those elevated levels are likely due to paint. “Many houses built before 1978 have a good chance of having lead paint.” 

According to the CDC, lead overexposure  can lead to a multitude of health problems. Exposure to high levels of lead may cause anemia, weakness, and kidney and brain damage. Very high lead exposure can cause death.

“Now the lead was not so high that it necessarily poses an extreme health risk,” Kreeger said, “and if it is paint especially, it should generally be alright, except for maybe windowsills and general air flow because lead dust can flow around and people could inhale it.”  

However, Kreeger thinks the College needs to take steps to prevent future lead problems. 

“It is more about preventing a further issue down the line,” Kreeger said, “because I do not think the College takes very good care of the houses.”

After Kreeger’s findings, Taylor said the College conducted  further testing to identify lead in McDavitt. “McDavitt House was tested yesterday [Sept. 13] by our environmental consultant for lead paint,” Taylor said, “and we should have results from the testing back later in the week or early next week.” 

If lead is found in McDavitt house, Taylor said that the College will “encapsulate” the possible lead paint. “Across our campus, Facilities has painted over known lead paint using a recommended technique called encapsulation,” Taylor said, “which keeps it from becoming friable. Using encapsulants is the best and safest way to cover lead paint to prevent it from producing dangerous lead-containing dust. Encapsulants are thicker than regular paint primers and work to seal or ‘encapsulate’ the lead paint behind a membrane.”