Rat scare moves UGA classes

ATHENS, Ga. -- The dilapidated University of Georgia building that houses Women's Studies Institute remained nearly empty Monday, five days after a janitor discovered evidence that a rat had been in the building overnight - a trail of pellets and marks left by sharp, gnawing rat teeth.

 

Garnett Stokes, dean of UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, has ordered classes scheduled for the Benson Building's one classroom permanently moved to other classrooms on the campus.

Women's studies Director Chris Cuomo said workers would return to their offices today, however, after UGA inspectors said the building poses no health threats to students or workers.

Ms. Cuomo told workers with offices in the building to stay home until officials with UGA's Physical Plant said it was safe to return.

On Monday, Ms. Cuomo got word that the building was clear of health hazards from the rat droppings, she said.

Physical Plant workers last week tracked the rat's path to a hole in a janitor's closet, said Ralph Johnson, the associate vice president in charge of UGA's Physical Plant.

Workers patched the hole to prevent the rat from re-entering, shampooed the building's carpets and set traps outside the building, Mr. Johnson said.

No one has seen any sign of a rat since, inside or outside the building, he said.

"I feel like the building is inhabitable. It is not an unhealthy building," Mr. Johnson said Monday.

Ms. Stokes said she had received e-mails from some students complaining that UGA officials had moved classes out of concern for students' health, but subjected women's studies workers to those same hazards by not finding them new offices.

While Ms. Stokes considers the building safe for both faculty and students, she decided not to return students to the building and disrupt them a second time, she said.

"My office started taking action to get the classes moved because we were uncertain what was going on. I ended up deciding we might as well keep the classes moved. I just wanted to be sure we didn't have future problems, and moving them once seemed like it should be plenty," Ms. Stokes said.

"But the building itself - the carpet has been shampooed, and Physical Plant has assured me it is habitable," Ms. Stokes said.

Other rats have found their way into the building in the past. The aging building, donated to the university in 1978, costs more and more to maintain, but now is scheduled for demolition, Mr. Johnson said.

Given the building's long history of problems, staff and faculty there are skeptical about its safety, say students and workers in women's studies.

"Those of us working in a place like that don't feel so secure, and worry about possible health issues," Ms. Cuomo said.

Five full-time employees and a part-time student employee work in the building, she said.

"It's always been kind of a gross building," said Rebecca Jones, a music graduate student who was taking a class in Benson this semester. "None of us were surprised (that a rat got in)."

Ms. Jones said she's embarrassed for the university because it houses one of its academic programs in a building so decrepit.

"It would be nice to have a building without rats," Ms. Jones said.

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