MERRIMACK — Something didn’t smell right in the James Mastricola Upper Elementary School.
Turned out it was bats.
A portion of the school has been sealed off and classes have been relocated while efforts get underway to remove and clean up after the bats and keep them from getting back in.
“This is an unfortunate incident that they got into the school,” Assistant Superintendent Matt Shevenell said. “It could be the smallest of cracks. We were not aware of it — we didn’t see bats flying around.”
It was an unusual smell in one of the classrooms in the school’s 1997 addition that prompted the school district’s facilities director and maintenance crews to start inspecting.
After ruling out other potential problems, the smell was isolated to a window in room 110. The window was removed and bat residue was discovered in the wall under it, Shevenell told the school board this week.
“We think there was a colony in there for some time — could be a year, could be two years — they were in that area creating this bat dung that just collected in the wall and it didn’t start to smell until it reached critical mass, so to speak,” he said.
Critter Control of Merrimack has been hired to assist with the cleanup process, and RPF Environmental, Inc., is completing air testing, according to Shevenell.
The room where the bat guano was discovered has tested positive for cryptococcus neoformans, one of two types of bat spores. The other type, histoplasma, has more severe health hazards but was not detected in the school.
“Everything else was clear except for that one room, which was the source of the odor in the first place,” he explained.
As a precaution, students and staff from eight classrooms have been relocated, said Shevenell.
The bat droppings have been removed, and a portion of the school’s exterior brick wall has been dismantled as the search for more bat evidence continues.
“We will continue to do this until it is gone,” he told school officials. “... We want to get to a point that we know there is nothing left in that wall.”
Honeywell is conducting an analysis of the air in all of the schools within the district, said Superintendent Marge Chiafery.
Shevenell said no one will be permitted back into that wing of the school until there is a zero reading for bat spores.
Only two bats were discovered hibernating inside the wall that was dismantled, and they have been relocated, he said.
“We are going to continue to chase this problem,” he said. “We are going to continue to monitor the situation,” said Shevenell.
Crews are also checking for bat trouble in other schools in town.