Workers run into bee problem while demolishing Franklin Elementary

Thursday, July 12, 2012
Grant Gillard uses a vacuum device to collect bees from the eaves of the old Franklin Elementary building Wednesday, July 11, 2012 in Cape Girardeau. The building is being demolished. (Fred Lynch)

Demolition crews starting to tear down the old Franklin Elementary in Cape Girardeau on Wednesday encountered a group not quite ready for the school to go.

Honeybees living in the eaves of the 85-year-old building and disturbed by the commotion of tree and sidewalk removal began to swarm after work began Wednesday morning. Several workers were stung.

Josh Kueker, a crew member for Premier Demolition, the company hired to tear down the school, said he and other workers were in a parking lot on the north side of the school grounds when the bees began to attack.

"You'd swat them away, and that would just make them madder and they would come back and sting you," he said.

Kueker and several other workers were each stung a few times. One worker went to the hospital and received a steroid shot because he said he is allergic to bee stings. No one was seriously injured.

Cape Girardeau School District officials called Grant Gillard, a Jackson beekeeper, to remove the bees.

Neil Glass, administrative services director for the district, said the company was notified of the possible presence of bees before work began.

"We thought it would be OK, but bees have a mind of their own," he said.

Beekeepers have removed bees from the school's eaves and nearby trees before.

Gillard and several other beekeepers have, in fact, taken turns collecting bees during recent summers, Franklin principal Rhonda Dunham said, in part so students and staff stay safe from swarms, but also because the bees are becoming scarcer.

"I was very pleased with what I was able to collect out of there," Gillard said of Wednesday's removal. He estimated he was able to collect around 90 percent of the bees with a "bee-vac" device. Gillard then took the bees home, where he placed the bucket with a screen top in his basement for the afternoon to let the insects "cool off" from their agitated state. He said he plans to add them to the bee population he keeps at home.

Gillard, also the president of the Missouri State Beekeepers Association, said beekeepers try to save as many honeybees as possible because populations are on the decline due to factors such as pesticide use and disease.

"Bees would be far wiser to build in a hollow tree out in the middle of the woods than in buildings, but oftentimes they don't. That probably doesn't help," he said.

Glass said Wednesday afternoon he anticipated any delay of demolition work would be short. The school is being torn down to make way for the playground of the newly built Franklin Elementary, which opens in August. The new school, at a cost of $10 million, is the largest project included in a $40 million bond issue to improve district facilities approved by voters in 2010.

Work on the 50,000-square-foot elementary building is nearing completion. Dunham said furniture will be delivered sometime next week and teachers will work to supply their classrooms the following week. She's been keeping a close eye on the progress and making plans for finishing student and staff transition.

"I've been going in about twice a day just to check on things," she said. "We're really excited to get in there, but there is still a lot to be done before school starts."

The school will continue to house kindergarten through fourth grades, but enough classrooms were included in the building to allow the school to someday add preschool and fifth-grade students if necessary.

Glass said district staff are working now to set dates for a ribbon cutting and public tours of the new school.

Also opening when the fall term begins Aug. 16 is a 22-room classroom addition at Cape Girardeau Central High School and a new library at the junior high. Both are among bond-financed projects.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

215 N. Louisiana St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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