Sunday, June 16, 2024

Students at Somerville’s Brown School do a science experiment in 2020. (Photo: The Benjamin G. Brown School via social media)

A rodent problem at Somerville’s Edgerly Education Center and other buildings had the attention of School Committee members at a May 29 meeting of a facilities and maintenance subcommittee joint meeting with the City Council, but that was not the only issue brought up as members tried to prioritize projects and improvements. 

At the Benjamin G. Brown, an elementary school in the Powder House Square neighborhood, staff would like to have outdoor water and electrical hookups – not the first year for the request, an official said.

“Right now what they’re doing is running an electric cord out of one of the windows of the school from a classroom and a generous neighbor is running a hose from her home to the school yard,” said School Committee member Leiran Biton of Ward 7.

The city says lower-than-projected revenue from fewer construction projects has muddled budgeting for capital projects. Biton said he didn’t understand why what he sees as a relatively simple project would be impossible to pay for, relative to the other significantly more expensive school projects the city is considering – though Somerville’s director of infrastructure and asset management, Rich Raiche, believed at first that the request was for a fountain.

Another school infrastructure issue is at the West Somerville Neighborhood School, where Bunsen burners in science labs haven’t been operational since September, when a concern about a gas smell – apparently from lawn mowers being used outside – led to a fire alarm being pulled. The gas burners have not been turned back on. “This could have been handled a lot more expediently,” said city councilor Jesse Clingan of Ward 4.

Rodent issues

The issue of rodents around classrooms came up in a survey by eighth graders displaced by safety concerns from the Winter Hill School building and now at the Edgerly building. The Edgerly is one of Somerville’s older school buildings, having been built in 1935.

“It’s definitely a problem DPW is aware of,” said Raiche, pointing to the 10 visits from a pest control company since June 2023 and a large cause of the rat problem: food. The Department of Public Works is trying to get school staff to reduce the number of open containers of food, he said. 

This wasn’t satisfying to the elected officials.

“I hope there are some significant plans in the summer, because I do understand that food can be a big impact on rodents, but clearly rodents are getting into the building. And we’re not having the level of rodents in other buildings, at least from the reports I’m hearing, that we are having at the Edgerly,” said School Committee Member Laura Pitone, of Ward 5. 

There is also a rat problem at the Arthur D. Healey, a PK-8 school in the Ten Hills area, Clingan said, particularly when ground-level outside doors are propped open during hot weather. Still, it seems like the Edgerly might be especially bad, he said, and suggested that the rats might have already been living in the boxing gym on the site before food was introduced this school year.

“I feel deep responsibility to these kids in this building,” said Clingan. 

Also discussed at the meeting: The city has decided on the members of a School Building Committee that will work on a new Winter Hill school. More details about these new members can be found here.