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County closes Dearing gym until bat problem can be solved

McDuffie County's only public gymnasium has been put on the shelf until later this year.

The McDuffie County Board of Commissioners decided at a meeting last week to temporarily close the Dearing gym until October due to health hazards caused by the facility's steadily increasing bat population.

The county had plans to eliminate the bat problem several months ago when an Atlanta-based company offered, for a fee, to handle the work.

Just recently, however, the cost of the procedure doubled. To make matters worse, the county found itself in a pickle when it learned that it needed to clear out the bats before May 1, when mating season begins. County officials were told that if extermination couldn't begin before then, the procedure would have to wait until August.

At last week's meeting commissioners decided to hold off until after mating season ends later this summer in hopes of getting the extermination price to come down.

Commissioners also said there simply wasn't enough time to gather competing bids on the project, and that they weren't comfortable with only consulting with one potential contractor.

"If we're not there by May we're dead in the water. (As a result), there's just really not enough time to get the bids and get it done and know for sure you're spending taxpayer dollars wisely," said Commission Chairman Charlie Newton. "The only other thing you can do at this point is shut the building down and put a sign on the door saying it's a health hazard."

The greatest health hazard is posed by the droppings of the bats, which local health officials have said could cause a rare, but serious, infection.

Mr. Newton said that had the quote stayed at its original price, then commissioners would have probably approved the expenditure and gotten the work done before the May 1 deadline. Unfortunately, the price rose and commissioners didn't feel comfortable with handing an out-of-town company the job without exploring other options.

"First quote was a reasonable quote," he said. "We said, 'Wow, let's see which way we're going; let's look at the structure,' then somebody said we needed to take care of those bats because they're a health hazard before we started ripping walls down."

So last week county workers locked the Dearing gym, and officials are hoping it's ready to reopen by October 1, when recreational basketball play begins.

Mr. Newton said that while the county waits for the mating season to end, he wants workers to begin their inspection of the floors and walls in hope of kickstarting the other half of the renovation process.

"By basketball season we should have all the cleanup and renovation done," he said.



Web posted on Thursday, April 29, 2004


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