FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The bat colony that took up residence in the Fort Rucker Fitness Center on Andrews Avenue in early July has left the building.
Fort Rucker Directorate of Public Works and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said the Brazilian free-tailed bats left in mid-August once their fledgling pups were able to fly.
“We have cleared the bats from all gym areas and the gym is now again in full service,” said Joseph Wyka, Directorate of Public Works director. “DPW installed approved bat exclusion devices Aug. 21. These devices allowed any stray bats to exit the building and denied them entry back inside in a humane way.”
DPW then retained the services of a professional remediation company that conducted multiple inspections of the facility Aug. 24-28, he added.
“They did not observe any remaining bats and did not locate any traces of bat droppings in any accessible areas,” Wyka said. “They then conducted a thorough cleaning and “(Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation) staff aired out the gym using large ventilation fans for a week.”
A joint task force from DPW, MWR and Lyster Army Health Clinic also re-inspected the gym and issued a final safe bill of health to allow people to use the locker rooms and racquetball courts once again, he added.
Fort Rucker’s response to the unwanted visitors was the very definition of teamwork, and taking care of Soldiers and families, according to Evy Bludsworth, DFMWR director.
“My definition of teamwork is everyone working together to achieve the best results. Fort Rucker saw teamwork in action when the bats made a temporary home at the fitness center,” she said. “DPW, the USDA, Lyster Preventive Medicine, the garrison safety office and MWR all worked together to protect the bats while finding a solution to support our patrons' fitness program.”
She added that the team met numerous times throughout the squatters’ time in the building to ensure all safety measures were in place for patrons and staff while maintaining requirements to protect the bats.
“We are delighted to say our cardio room is now back in operation at the fitness center,” Bludsworth said. “Although the equipment was moved into the main gym for patrons to utilize, the space was limited. The MWR staff did an exceptional job in taking care of our patrons during the bat visitation, but we are delighted our visitors have left and are now at their new vacation home.”
She described MWR’s partnership with DPW in working through the bat situation as “exceptional.”
“They responded to each and every concern we identified, sealed off needed areas to allow patrons to continue to work out, installed exclusion devices at the appropriate time and brought a team in to clean up the area the bats were in,” Bludsworth said. “We are thankful to all members of the team who helped to resolve the situation and grateful for the positive results.”
While the bats are gone and the cleanup is complete, there is still work to do to try to prevent this decades-old problem from coming home to roost again next year, Wyka said.
“We’ve already begun inspecting and sealing any small places in the gym where bats might try to access the facility next season,” he said, adding that this is easier said than done. “A bat can enter a building through a crevice as small as a quarter. Over the last 30 years, bats have from time to time roosted in the fitness center, simulator buildings and other taller buildings with dark conditioned space.
“We’re looking in to the option of constructing a bat house in the adjacent area that might convince bats to roost there instead of our tall buildings,” Wyka said. “While they are good neighbors and help keep the mosquitoes down, we want them to not be quite so neighborly in our critical buildings in the future.”