A dead rat was discovered in the ceiling of a classroom in the Massey wing at New Westminster Secondary School on Tuesday, a local parent said.
The rat was found because of the stench it gave off, said Wendy Harris, whose son had a morning class in the room where the decomposing rodent was found.
Harris said she learned about the incident after she received a call from the media. She called the high school and a staff member confirmed the incident.
"They found a dead rat in the ceiling, room 138," Harris told The Record. "It's disgusting. They're rodents, which carry all sorts of bad things, and their droppings ... they also chew through stuff."
Harris believes the rat was discovered around noon. She was told that students were moved to another classroom for the afternoon. Her son was in the same classroom that morning, though he told her he didn't smell anything strange.
"He has a cold," Harris said, adding that her son also has serious health problems and she is concerned about the impact a rat infestation could have on him. "I'm worried about his health and well-being there, and the staff morale, too. They're working in a rat-infested place."
Harris, a member of the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils and past-chair of the local district-wide parent council, recently wrote a letter to the province outlining her concerns about the soil conditions at the high school. She also noted the rat problem in her letter.
Harris said she has seen rats almost every time she has walked by the high school at night and believes the rat issues are extensive.
"This kind of just confirms everything. I mean I've seen so many rats around the building already, running into the corners and this is just the confirmation that there absolutely are rats here," she said. "When you find one decomposing rat, you know there's more."
District parent advisory council chair Rob Peregoodoff said a megohmmeter test (a measuring device that tests high electrical resistances) should be conducted throughout the high school to determine the extent of the rat infestation.
"It is my understanding that a 'meg-ger' test will definitively show the state of the electrical wires, given that we have to assume the rats are chewing the wires, thereby making an extreme fire hazard," he wrote on the district parent advisory council's website.
In 2007, Fraser Health inspected the high school and found evidence of rodents at that time.
"Rodents have been a problem for, well, as long as I've been there," said New Westminster Teachers' Union president Grant Osborne. "You've got 2,400 students (with) snacks and lunches, and you've got the endless tunnels underneath the school. It's been a well-documented and well-known issue of rodents being a problem there."
Osborne wasn't contacted about this week's incident, but was alerted about rats earlier this fall. Teachers were dealing with "obvious evidence of rats exploring at night because there are droppings on their worktables or desks or by their computer," he said.
"CUPE's done a great job of trying to keep up on it in terms of cleaning and disinfecting and trying to control the problem. It's the reality of a gigantic building. . there's a pretty well-established colony there," Osborne said
The president of CUPE Local 409 agreed that the age of the building is a significant part of the problem.
"Every school throughout the province and throughout the region has rodents, new and old but mostly in our old buildings," he said. "Lots of ways for them to get in and they get in because there is lots of food and lots of people."
The district doesn't use poison to kill rodents. There are a number of reasons for that, including because of the toxic component, also with poison with rodents they become intoxicated by it and "that's when they die in the walls," Marsolais said.
"Traps are not any more humane but at least you can find them," he said, adding that the sticky traps are more cruel.
For the most part, the district's utility staff looks after rodent control, Marsolais said. For well over a decade, the school district has been attempting to rebuild a new high school on the site. The cemetery and soil conditions have been recent stumbling blocks for the long-overdue project.
The district and the Ministry of Education are moving forward to build a new middle school and a replacement elementary school. The district is expected to announce the developer for those projects this month, Jim Alkins, the schools' project manager, recently told The Record.
There has been no announcement on when a new high school will be built.