Burglars and thieves make weekly court appearances at the McLennan County Courthouse. However, it’s another kind of night visitor that has put courthouse employees on edge of late, wondering what will be waiting for them in their offices when they come to work.
Employees in one court office won’t sit down each morning until they scrub each exposed desk surface, computer keyboard and armrest with bleach wipes because they fear rats scurried over the area sometime during the night.
Courthouse maintenance crews don’t call it an infestation, but squeamish county employees who don’t like sharing work space with disease-carrying rodents are complaining louder and more frequently about rats in the courthouse tearing up books for nesting material, chewing holes in gym bags and ceiling tiles and eating food left in drawers and cabinets.
One rat has even been blamed for chewing up a cord and taking a fax machine out of service. A county maintenance official told an employee that more than 30 rats have been killed at the courthouse within the past four months.
On Tuesday, maintenance employees were stepping up their game, adding the traditional spring-loaded rat traps to the current arsenal of sticky traps baited with Starbursts and chocolate.
The sticky traps have worked well for smaller rats. But larger ones can drag the sticky traps all over an office until they finally escape the clingy surface.
That’s what happened Monday night in the 54th State District Court administrator’s office. Two sticky traps were found across the room from their original locations but no rats were stuck to the traps.
There are holes in paneling and a hole in the drop-down ceiling in the office and administrator Penny Savage said she and her co-workers in 54th Court find daily reminders in their office of what seems to be a worsening rat problem at the courthouse.
County maintenance worker Justin Matus carried around a five-gallon bucket of rat traps Tuesday, going from office to office asking if workers would like him to set traps there. He found quite a few takers.
An employee in the county judge’s office said she looked up from her computer screen recently to find a rat staring at her from the top of a nearby table.
Court coordinators in the County Court-at-Law office said rats made mincemeat recently of office Halloween decorations being stored in a large closet, ripping out stuffing to soften their nests.
County Administrator Dustin Chapman said Herschel Miller, county maintenance head, has consulted with several exterminators to try to find the most effective way to take care of the problem.
“We are being mindful of jurors and all the other people who are in and out of this building every day,” Chapman said. “We are trying alternative methods to poison because of the potential smell that can be created if the rats crawl up in the ceilings or somewhere else and die.”
County officials say that keeping rats and mice out of the 115-year-old building is a challenge because the original plaster is covered with paneling and there are crawl spaces in most offices, including drop-down ceilings, that did not exist in the original building.
“We are doing everything we can,” Miller said. “We are using a variety of methods and we are working on the problem every single day. We are getting them little by little.”