Birds cause extensive damage to Northwest College dorm

A starling flies out of one of the many holes that birds have pecked into the exterior of Simpson Hall at Northwest College in Powell, while a dead starling’s head hangs from the nest. The college expects to spend roughly $240,000 to repair the damage caused by birds. (Photo by Kevin Killough, Powell Tribune)

By Kevin Killough

Powell Tribune

Via Wyoming News Exchange

POWELL — Northwest College plans to spend up to $240,000 to keep Simpson Hall from going to the birds. 

Woodpeckers and possibly other birds have pecked out holes all along the exterior walls of the residence hall. The vandals, including starlings, have then made nests in the soft insulation that lies under the waterproof exteriors; the birds can be heard clawing around inside the panels as they come and go from the openings. 

Simpson Hall was constructed in 2006, replacing Bridger Hall, which burnt down in 2003. Insurance from the lost hall paid for the first phase of Simpson Hall, and a bond issue paid for a second wing, which opened in 2009. 

The building was covered in exterior panels called Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems (EIFS). The material is widely used in residential construction as a protective barrier to the exterior of houses and became common in the mid1990s. 

Its use declined for a period following widespread lawsuits over water damage, generally in wetter East Coast climates. As it turns out, if home windows, doors and roofs are not constructed tightly with proper sealants, water gets trapped inside the cladding of the EIFS and degrades the insulation. 

Despite the issues, EIFS housing began to rebound again and peaked in 2006, when Simpson Hall was built. 

The problems at Simpson Hall didn’t arise from shoddy construction, but the holes pecked open by birds will have the same effect of allowing moisture to get inside the panels. Not to mention, the animals are tearing up the insulation and diminishing its protective qualities. 

Lisa Watson, vice-president for administrative services and finance at NWC, said the material used on Simpson Hall is a “first generation product.” Unfortunately, all the manufacturer warranties have expired, and since the damage wasn’t a result of any manufacturer defects, the college is on the hook for the repairs. 

“There are newer products and newer applications we can use,” Watson said. 

College officials are not replacing the panels, which would require much more expense. Instead, they’re patching the holes and resurfacing the EIFS with a mesh material, which will then be painted. 

NWC leaders looked at other solutions to get rid of the pesky birds, but none were feasible. Woodpeckers return to their nests when they migrate back to an area, and so non-lethal trapping and relocation isn’t an option. They also enjoy legal protections as a species, meaning even if the college was to consider such options, they would run up against federal law. 

The Board of Trustees approved the renovation project at its regular meeting early this month, and the work is now out for bid. 

Watson said this isn’t the best time of year to find contractors, as the warm weather is when they are in high demand. But she’s hoping they’ll get a good pool of bidders. 

“We’re starting to feel a little nervous because we’re not sure who our contractors will be,” she said. 

Simpson Hall has been found to be in otherwise good mechanical and structural condition, and the campus’ February 2019 housing master plan recommends maintaining the hall in the institution’s inventory. The hall can host up to 154 students in suite-style rooms. Cody Hall remains closed due to water damage.