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Rat infestation closes Congdon Park school

Congdon Park Elementary and its grounds, including the playground, will be closed for the summer so a rat infestation can be eradicated. Rats have burrowed underneath the gym addition — shown here Wednesday afternoon — and are feeding off the school's nearby composting bin. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 2
A rat is caught at the dumpster at Congdon Park Elementary School. Photo courtesy of Dave Spooner2 / 2

A rat infestation has closed the eastern Duluth Congdon Park Elementary School and its grounds for the summer.

The rodents have been spotted entering the drainage system under the gym addition of the school. Hillside burrow entrances have also been found at the back of the building, according to the Duluth school district.

A rat is caught at the dumpster at Congdon School. Photo courtesy of Dave SpoonerThe closure will allow pest control and district staff to clear the area where the rats have been living and eating for some time, including inside the school’s composting bin.

“They enter into — I don’t want to call it a rat buffet — but they had plenty of food, shelter and water and took up residence,” district facilities manager Dave Spooner said of the composting bin and the burrows.

No rats were found inside the school, he said, but the closure of the building and its grounds make it easier to solve the problem.

A rat trap sits under a rock near the trash area at Congdon Park Elementary School Wednesday. Bob King / DNTThe infestation was discovered toward the end of the school year, and pest control workers began addressing it with traps inside lock boxes. So far, about five rats per day have been trapped. Pesticide bait boxes will be set near the drainage system and burrow entrances Friday. The method is compliant with Environmental Protection Agency and Minnesota Department of Health guidelines, district officials said.

Rats are entering Congdon Park's new addition through this drainage pipe in the trash-holding area at the school. Bob King / DNTSpooner said he counted about 75 of the nocturnal creatures one day, during daylight hours. The food source — the contents of the cafeteria’s composting bin — has been removed. Rats had chewed their way inside. Pest control workers estimate the colony had made the area its home for at least a year, Spooner said.

Guardian Pest Solutions has been hired for the project. The cost is unknown, and depends on the time it takes to eradicate the colony, Spooner said.

The summer Key Zone and Excel programs held at the school have been moved to Ordean-East Middle School, and the closure includes the playground. The district is notifying neighbors and school families and will post signs alerting passersby to the bait boxes. Guardian’s entomologist Jamie Kopco said the boxes are locked and weighted, with holes barely big enough for the rats to squeeze inside. The food placed in the boxes is formulated for the specific tastes of rats, but other animals could risk illness or death by consuming it. Kopco said the food is a waxy substance mixed with grain, sort of like birdseed. The pesticide results in death several days after eating the food. The work will include finding and removing the dead animals from school property. Kopco said squirrels don’t typically like such small spaces, but there was a risk to chipmunks.

“We will do everything in our power to place (the boxes) where they are much more likely to hit their target,” Kopco said, noting the scope of the infestation isn’t unusual.

“We’ve seen more and we’ve seen less,” he said.

But the problem is unusual for Duluth schools, Spooner said.

“I’ve been here 22 years, and we’ve never had a rat infestation,” he said.

Call facilities management at (218) 336-8907 with questions.