Central High School auditorium's design to guard against woodpecker attack

Friday, December 17, 2010

So how do you make a building woodpecker-proof?

Architects for the planned $8.1 million Richard D. Kinder Performance Hall at Cape Girardeau Central High School have been pecking at that question.

The high school has been under attack by the birds, invading the Styrofoam-based Exterior Insulated Finishing System, or the skin of the building.

"These are not minor attacks," Tom Diggs, project manager for Bond Wolfe Architects in St. Louis, told Cape Girardeau School Board members during a special meeting Thursday. "These woodpeckers have gotten into it, through it and into the building."

While mainly a nuisance and an aesthetics issue, the assault on the siding has required repairs. It's something architects have been mindful of as they inked the plans for the 1,000-seat auditorium, expected to be completed in 2012.

The hall will be constructed on the side of the high school where the woodpeckers have burrowed their way in. So plans call for using split concrete masonry at the base of the building and a strong fiber cement board above to keep the birds at bay, Diggs said.

"We wanted to provide a material that is woodpecker-proof," the architect told board members, many bursting into laughter at the term.

Diggs said there is nothing wrong with the insulated foam material, a common building product. He said he's never seen anything quite like the high school's woodpecker problem in his career.

So what makes the synthetic wall cladding so appealing to the birds? Diggs said one theory is that woodpeckers fancy the resonant sound the softer material makes during the birds' territorial drumming in the breeding season.

Woodpeckers are a fairly common property nuisance, and the Internet is filled with advice on how to stop the damage. For instance, the Audubon Society of Portland, Ore., recommends employing the scarecrow principle.

"Hanging windsocks, Mylar tape, colorful streamers, or hawk silhouettes in the vicinity of the drilling will sometimes frighten woodpeckers away. A more surefire method is to cover the affected area with woodpecker-proof material such as 14-inch hardware cloth, netting or plastic," the organization's website says.

Diggs unveiled new renderings of the high school auditorium that he described as fun and dynamic. District officials declined the Southeast Missourian's request for the renderings, saying they did not want to release them at this point in the design process. The designs include a lobby that will serve as a gathering space and will be equipped with a kitchen and a common area to display artwork. Diggs said architects took their design cue from the high school.

"We didn't want to just end up with something that looked like a big warehouse stuck on the end of the building," he said.

Last week, the school board approved a $1 million gift from Houston businessman, philanthropist and Central High School alumnus Rich Kinder. The money will fund the addition of a balcony, adding about 250 seats to the performance hall.



Pertinent address:

1000 S. Silver Springs Road, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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