GREAT FALLS — The Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art in Great Falls is home to a lot of art - but it’s also home to something you don’t see when you visit: bats. The museum is applying for a grant to deal with the problem.
"All of this is guano,” said Sarah Justice, director of Paris Gibson Square, pointing out bat guano in the museum’s attic.
Bat guano and urine are seemingly everywhere in the attic.
"This shows the damage on things that aren't covered over the years,” Justice said, pointing out urine and guano stains on an item stored in the attic. "They'll go into a warm area in the attic then they'll fly to a different area, wherever it's warmer. So they migrate within the attic."
Justice said the bats get in through small spaces in the roof and have been a problem for decades.
"We don't want any more structural damage to be done to this attic. This building is a historic landmark for Montana and Great Falls and it's important that we get this project taken care of so then we can potentially use this for other expansion within the institution over time,” Justice explained.
The project comes in two parts. The first is to hire a company to seal up the roof from the inside and the outside after the bats have left for the summer.
"We're on the flat part of the roof right now here at the Square, but you'll notice there's a deep, deep steep incline. A lot of peaks and valleys along where the terracotta color is, so all the ridge caps, the caps where all points meet, will be removed and then a really fine mesh will be coming down over the top of that to seal up any entry points for the bats to be able to get in,” Justice said. "Then, they'll be going inside and sealing up any quarter inch holes."
Part two is to remove everything from the attic and do a deep clean.
Justice provided the following information:
Little Brown Myotis Bats and Rock Pigeons have been roosting in The Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art historic attic for approximately 50 years. Bat colonies roost in the Square’s historic attic during summer months, causing health and safety concerns for staff and patrons. There have never been funds to address the problem, because the entire organization's budget has historically been under $500,000. Therefore raising funds for this project are crucial. Staff have tried to keep up with the clean-up and seal any holes that they can find in the roof so bats cannot come in, but the problem still exists. The bats are a threat to the structural integrity of the attic, the architectural elements, historic documents and files, museum exhibitions pedestals and event furniture such as chairs, tables and décor. Their presence has also caused museum staff to close off attic access to the public and limit use of it as much as possible.
Bats are important to our environment, and Little Brown Myotis bats are soon to be on the endangered species list, so The Square’s proposed solution of ethical exclusion seeks to relocate these bats out of the museum attic with minimal disturbance. The Square will work with Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) professionals to build replacement bat houses and plans to incorporate them into a community project combining arts and wildlife science. NWCOA-certified wildlife specialists will identify and seal areas of the roof, eaves and attic ceiling through which bats and pigeons can enter the building, excluding them from re-entering on their migratory routes. It also removes the ongoing threat of structural damage to the building because of extensive exposure to guano and urine.
Once the attic is safe for use, after the clean-up and mitigation portion of the project is complete The Square can explore options for renovating it into a future usable public space. The total project cost for the project is $319,579.00. The Bat Exclusion project will take a total of 4 weeks to complete and will start in Fall of 2023 or Spring of 2024.
The Clean-up and Mitigation in the attic will take an estimated 20 days and is projected to begin in the early fall of 2023 but will align with the bat exclusion process. The first phase of the clean-up is to remove all contents from the 10,000 sqft attic, second the bat exclusion project takes place, third the interior mitigation process begins, then lastly the items to be kept will be put back into the attic.
The museum has applied for a grant for more than $300,000 for the project and should find out in May of 2023 if the grant will be awarded.
One of the requirements of the grant, however, is the museum has to raise 20% of the grant amount.
Justice hopes when all of the money is counted from Give Great Falls Week currently underway - a week dedicated to raising money for non-profits - $6,000 will have been raised for the project. Click here if you would like to donate.
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