McALLEN — The ceiling tiles are light and worn, with holes in several spots where rodents made their mark.
When it’s windy outside and someone opens a door, the wind blows into the McAllen Parks and Recreation building, lifting the light ceiling tiles upward and leaving openings for whatever sits above to fall onto the floor, or atop a city employee’s desk. Sometimes, nothing falls. Other times, it’s animal feces, likely from rats or opossums.
The “infestation,” as Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hernandez called it, reached a tipping point in the middle of the summer. After setting plenty of traps and dispatching the daily guests, many went missing.
Rats and opossums fell into the walls, where they laid to rest. There was nothing the staff could do to get rid of them. They had to wait until the carcasses decomposed in the mid-summer heat.
The smell was bad at first. Eventually, it was unbearable. Employees couldn’t describe the pungent odor, but assured it was not pleasant.
“ We shouldn’t have to put anyone through that,” Hernandez said.
Ask employees about the smell, and they cringe. Hernandez said no employees have gotten sick, though some have been nauseous.
Staff had to evacuate the building for three weeks in the middle of the summer, Hernandez said. To ensure that doesn’t happen again, and more importantly, to give employees a safe workspace, city commissioners will likely vote Monday to move on the first step towards getting a new facility.
Commissioners and City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez have discussed holding a May bond election, featuring several propositions, one of which included a new parks building.
“It’s terrible,” Rodriguez said of the building that was constructed in the early 1980s, but has expanded every 10 years.
Due to the urgency of the need for a new building, the city will likely go out for different types of bonds that do not require an election. There’s an item on Monday’s regularly scheduled commission meeting agenda on which commissioners will likely vote on the first step in the process of moving toward going out for those types of bonds.
In the meantime, Hernandez and the 146 parks employees will continue to “put lipstick on the hog.” For instance, a staffer sprays disinfectant inside the entire building at 6:30 a.m. every morning. Droppings or insulation may have fallen overnight.
When it rains heavily, the building tends to leak and water sometimes builds up on the floor. So employees are forced to place bags on every computer on most rainy days. To avoid water damage, employees also constructed wooden platforms for every computer at floor level.
During the three-week evacuation this summer, which fell during the Games of Texas, one of the department’s busiest times this year, employees tried to seal every opening animals were sneaking into. They also had to get rid of skunks, which nested under a trailer that connects to the building. That trailer is where Hernandez and five others set up shop for that evacuation.
“It was our command center,” he said. “Six of us around one table.”
The rest of the employees were dispersed to different community centers around town. Unfortunately for them, none were sent across the street to the pristine convention center.
A timetable for a new building is unknown, as the commission still needs to decide and vote on how to move forward. But Monday could be a step toward that.
Until a new building is constructed, employees will continue to make do. Hernandez said they’re still trying to block all potential rodent entries, plug up leaks and repair both the inside and outside of the building.
Beyond simply repairing the building, Hernandez is most concerned about safety.
“You don’t want to get sick by coming to work,” he said.