QUESTION: Is there a bat infestation at the Garrett Elementary/Hawfields Middle School complex in Mebane, and what’s being done to fix it?
ANSWER: Yes, there is a bat infestation at the Garrett Elementary/Hawfields Middle School complex, which will remain closed until the removal process is complete, according to Dr. Todd Thorpe, assistant superintendent of operations for the Alamance-Burlington school system.
In the meantime, staff and students have been relocated to other ABSS schools for summer school, Thorpe told The Alamance News Tuesday.
The expanded summer school program – which ABSS and all other North Carolina K-12 public school systems are providing, under state legislation requiring students to receive in-person instruction five days per week – started June 28 and runs through August 5. Garrett Elementary School students are attending summer school at Alexander Wilson Elementary School; Hawfields Middle School students are attending summer school at the Haw River Elementary School campus, Thorpe said.
“The bats apparently gained entry through a portion of the eaves area on the roof of the building and have nested in the roof dormers,” professional wildlife removal contractors determined during an inspection, Thorpe explained. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has evaluated the infestation as “moderate,” he told the newspaper Tuesday.
“The bats primarily appear to be located under the roof and above the dropped ceiling of the school building – out of sight and above the range/reach of people,” Thorpe emphasized.
The length of time that the school sat mostly unoccupied – during a statewide school closure that began in March 2020 and, for ABSS, remained in effect through March of this year – “is definitely a factor” that contributed to the infestation, Thorpe acknowledged. “Early signs of bats on campus would have been identified sooner if the building had been fully used and occupied as during a normal school year,” he told the newspaper Tuesday.
ABSS is currently working with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and its staff biologists, who have visited the site to provide guidance on removing the bats and restoring them to their natural habitat, the assistant superintendent explained. Alamance County’s Health Department was notified of the infestation and will be notified once removal and remediation is complete, said Thorpe.
“We have consulted with the N.C. wildlife experts to put a plan in place,” which Thorpe said requires approval by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “Bats are considered an endangered species, and it is illegal to disturb/remove bats during their nesting time, which expires at the end of July,” he elaborated. “N.C. Wildlife will have to provide the approval for contractors to begin the removal process, and then [we will] follow that up with sealing the identified entry points.” ABSS is soliciting estimates from qualified contractors to start work once the wildlife commission grants approval. “Prior to the building being occupied this fall, appropriate air quality tests will be performed, and health department inspections conducted.”
The Garrett Elementary/Hawfields Middle School complex, which opened in August 2001, is the third-newest ABSS school. (The newest ABSS school is the Career and Technical Education Center that opened in Burlington in 2012, followed by Highland Elementary School in west Burlington, which was built in 2007.)