And now another bit of bad news for the already troubled West Tisbury town hall: Rats have taken up residence there. T.J. Hegarty, county rodent officer, was called in and found plenty of evidence by just taking a walk around the building. He found a network of tunnels. "There is a well-established colony," Mr. Hegarty said yesterday.
Steps have been taken to rid the municipal building of the creatures. Poison bait has been put down, a trash container has been lined with steel mesh and the tunnels have been filled.
There are burrows all around the foundation. "Usually you find them on one side of a building, but it is not very common to find it on all four sides," Mr. Hegarty said. "It is obvious that they are there."
Jennifer Rand, town executive secretary, said the first evidence of rats came with the appearance of holes in the ground near the entrance to the town hall. "There was a gigantic hole next to the building. That was the clear giveaway. We haven't seen any evidence inside the building. I don't think we are very careful about putting food away," Ms. Rand said.
Mr. Hegarty said the source of food for the rodents was an outside trash bin, where they clearly got a meal. That is where the burrowing was also most conspicuous.
The inspection took place May 25. Mr. Hegarty said: "It was obvious they were there. We did a thorough inspection. They had been getting into the vegetable growth against the foundation. They were near the bus stop. We uncovered how they were coming up out of the ground, using the foliage as camouflage," Mr. Hegarty said.
Ms. Rand informed the selectmen of the problem at their weekly meeting. Said she: "We have a big problem."
Selectman John Early responded: "That will look good in the paper."
The board of selectmen then shifted the discussion to emergency measures that need to be taken regarding the future of the building. Earlier in the year, the town undertook a survey of residents and found that most residents do support the renovation of the town hall, despite failed attempts to get work started over the last several years.
Voters at a special town meeting last January authorized the spending of $76,645 for emergency work to include repairing the fire escape, replacing storm windows and improving the rest rooms. Selectmen said they also need to replace their outdated oil burner, which failed last winter and caused pipes to freeze and burst.
Mr. Early said yesterday the rat issue is indicative of a lot of problems with the 132-year-old building. "It is an old building. A lot of old buildings all over the Island, commercial, institutional, have rodent problems. This is just one more indication that the building requires attention. We can deal with this particular problem in the short term and we are thankful for the invaluable help from the county." But, he said, much needs to be done.
Mr. Hegarty said he thought this was another reason to put in a new foundation under the town hall.
Mr. Hegarty said the town has instituted a new schedule for cleaning the building, timed to coincide with trash pickup. "We've lined the bottom of the trash bin with quarter-inch galvanized wire that will prevent [rats] from gnawing through the bottom of the box."
The West Tisbury town hall is far from the only municipal building with rodent problems. Mr. Hegarty said last winter the town's police station also had problems with skunks and rats. The Tisbury town hall has had problems with skunks and rats in the past.
There is an ongoing effort to control rats at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. "The rats there have an ability to adapt," Mr. Hegarty said.
Last year Mr. Hegarty was called in to deal with issues across the Island, including the charter school; the Edgartown, Tisbury and West Tisbury schools; the school district's central administration building; the West Tisbury fire station, and the Chilmark town hall; the up-Island and Edgartown councils on aging; Island Elderly Housing at Hillside village and the West Tisbury agricultural hall. "As things arise, we deal with them," Mr. Hegarty said.
The center of West Tisbury is a place where rats reside. Without revealing the names of private homeowners, Mr. Hegarty said there are private and public buildings being checked. "There is a lot of natural food for them. There is a lot of habitation for them. I find it really satisfying that people pick up and call to use our service. This is one of the busiest of springs."