CLEMSON — The Brooks Center for the Performing Arts at Clemson University will reopen its theaters April 27, more than two weeks ahead of schedule.

Brooks Center for the Performing Arts

Brooks Center for the Performing Arts

Consider it the end of an unscheduled sab-bat-ical.

Several bats were spotted above the stage during a performance by the Houston Ballet II on March 26. The free-tailed bats not only attended the ballet that evening, but a colony was discovered roosting in a wall that separates the Brooks Theatre from the lobby.

The bats have left the building. Entrance openings were sealed. A wall was opened, the former roost was cleared and the thorough cleaning and repair of the Brooks Theatre will soon be complete.

And, thanks to an extraordinary effort across the university, the Brooks Center will return to full operations much earlier than the anticipated date of May 15.

On with the shows

The closure came at a critical time of year when the Brooks Center calendar was filled with performances by student ensembles and other end-of-year university events.

“We had two options: either cancel our remaining performances or find creative ways for our students to showcase the work they have been preparing all semester,” said Thomas Hudgins, managing director of the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts. “The staff, faculty and students here at Brooks chose the latter. The spirit truly embodies the old adage ‘the show must go on.’”

The Diviners Clemson Players Ken Scar photo

Clemson Players rehearse “The Diviners,” a play by Jim Leonard Jr., which will be performed outdoors April 16-21 at the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

That creative spirit will be particularly evident April 16 through 21, when the Clemson Players present “The Diviners” in the Brooks Courtyard. The play will be performed outdoors on a newly constructed set, before an audience seated on their own blankets and folding chairs.

Almost all of the other scheduled performances and events have been relocated to alternate venues on campus, in the city of Clemson and in nearby Central.

“Adversity actually created new bridges within our community – and strengthened old ones,” Hudgins said.

“I could not be more proud of how the Brooks Center team came together to accommodate so many performances,” said Richard E. Goodstein, dean of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities. “We could not have accomplished this feat without incredible support from our community partners at Daniel High School, Fort Hill Presbyterian Church and Southern Wesleyan University. Our regular patrons and other members of the community have come out in droves at these alternate spaces.”

University-wide collaboration

“I didn’t get bat training in graduate school,” Dean Goodstein said. “But in all seriousness, the university has been deeply supportive at every level. I have been impressed by the attention of Clemson administrators and the coordination between the Brooks team; faculty wildlife experts; CU Facilities, maintenance and environmental safety personnel; and JBR, Gregory Pest Solutions and other outside contractors.”

After bats were first sighted in the Brooks Theatre, facilities personnel and a Clemson wildlife expert were called in.

Greg Yarrow, chair of the department of forestry and environmental conservation, determined that a maternal colony of free-tailed bats had begun to roost in a theater wall. He later estimated that 100 bats might have been in the wall.

An ad hoc team of university experts swooped into action. “The immediate concern was remediating the Brooks Center,” Yarrow said.

At several tiny entry points where the theater wall meets the roof, a special mesh sock was installed that allowed bats to escape the building, but not reenter. Any bats collected by the mesh were taken back to the wild, off campus.

Michael E. Smith, director of facilities construction, renovation and maintenance at Clemson University, said bats can enter a building through gaps as small as 3/8 of an inch.

To determine the area and extent of the bat activity, he said a remote camera within an eight-foot hose was scoped into the back wall of the theater, to “see” into the close quarters between the drywall, vapor barrier, insulation and studs.

CU Men's Choir and CU Women's Choir

The CU Men’s Choir and CU Women’s Choir were able to perform April 12, thanks to Fort Hill Presbyterian Church.

No live bats have been seen in the Brooks Center since April 3.

Yarrow said they were lucky to have caught the situation early.

“Woody Moore at the Brooks Center was great. Dr. Yarrow was great. It certainly was a great team effort from everybody,” Smith said. “And the warm temperatures really helped. The remediation went off as well as it could have.”

Once all the bats – which are federally protected – were gone, the gaps were sealed, the wall was opened and the affected area was triple cleaned, sanitized and treated with antifungal agents.

“We treated every space that looked like they might have possibly been,” said Robin Newberry, the director of environmental safety at Clemson University.

“They’re calling us Batmen now,” Smith said. “It was quite interesting, but I’m glad it’s over.”

Good news, bat news

It’s not unheard of for an isolated bat to stray into a university building. The colony at Brooks, however, has prompted a more proactive Clemson response to the native bats on and near the main campus.

A good way to keep bats out of buildings is to provide them with better options.

“Long term, the university has agreed to work with the guidance of our environmental faculty to build two structures that will serve as alternative roosting spots,” Yarrow said.

The bat houses would be built at Calhoun Field Bottoms, an 80-acre student-managed organic farm on the south side of Perimeter Road. Based on designs from the University of Florida, the structures would resemble barns perched on four stilts.

Acoustic and scent lures will help the bats find their homes. “The bats will discover the alternative roosting sites over time,” Yarrow said. “It’s not like they check out of one place and then check in like a hotel.”

Home and away

The Clemson University musical ensembles, too, will soon find their way home to the Brooks Theatre, starting with the April 27 performance by the CU Percussion Ensemble and CU Steel Band. Here is the latest event and venue information, which will be kept current on the Brooks Center website.