Forget the belfry.
In Harlem, bats seem to prefer the middle school.
When Harlem Middle School reopened for the new school year, it had some unwelcomed visitors: A group of bats had found its way into the kitchen area.
"It doesn't take much of an opening for them to get through," Principal Geoffrey Schlichter said.
The nocturnal creatures invaded the spaces between walls and above ceiling tiles in the Columbia County school, leaving a mess for school officials to deal with when they returned. Some bats were found dead.
For the first full week of classes, lunches were prepared elsewhere and brought into the school. An environmental team has been at the school cleaning the kitchen and cafeteria and replacing ceiling tiles. Pupils have been eating brown-bag lunches either in the auditorium or outside.
Columbia County schools Superintendent Tommy Price said the system will continue to bring meals into Harlem Middle until the cleanup is complete.
The presence of the bats is becoming a regular problem for the school, much to the frustration of officials.
"Every year, we have a problem with bats at that school," school board member Roxanne Whitaker said recently.
The school's gymnasium suffered a similar infestation two or three years ago and had to be closed. At that time, a specialist was brought in to remove the bats at night, when they were active, Mr. Schlichter said. Caulking small, open spaces in the gymnasium solved problems for that part of the school.
"We had a major problem in the gym a few years ago," Mr. Schlichter said. "I don't have direct knowledge, but I've heard teachers talking about when they've had bats in other wings at other times in previous years."
Mr. Schlichter said he hoped to have the school's kitchen and cafeteria reopened today.
"That's our hope," he said. "Sandwiches will work for a few days, but I'm sure if we go with that too long, kids will get pretty tired of sandwiches."
Reach Peggy Ussery at (706) 868-1222.