An influx of rats startles Towson court complex County workers scurry to combat rodent invasion

November 30, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Some have suspected for years that a few rats live inside Towson's twin courthouses, but they're wrong.

The big, nasty rodents live outside the courthouse complex in the heart of Towson, burrowing holes in the Washington Avenue garden near the older building and scurrying beneath bushes around the newer building and the fountain plaza between.

Several dead rats have been discovered in the brick gutters that surround the garden. People also have seen them run into holes in the lawn. County workers suspect they feed at night in trash bins behind nearby restaurants and hole up during the day.

"They're like big-city rats," said Travis Jones, a county maintenance worker who, like others, doesn't associate rats with Towson's leafy government center.

County offices have had their brushes with vermin in the past: Last year, workers at the county's 911 center in Towson complained about mice in the multimillion-dollar center.

But the rat problem is so bad that a contractor recently set large black plastic traps.

And Thornton Guthrie, county maintenance crew chief, said stainless steel tops will be placed on the large stone trash containers around the courthouse lawn, replacing rubber lids the rats have tried to gnaw through.

The trash cans also have been moved to cement bases to prevent the animals from boring in from beneath, and maintenance workers have been asked to empty the cans that dot the complex each afternoon to eliminate tempting lunchtime leftovers. "We've done everything possible here," said Guthrie.

Still, Maurice Crawford, a court security guard, said he saw a pair of 6- to 8-inch rats chase a squirrel into busy Bosley Avenue one recent morning.

Others have seen the rodents in the garden on the Washington Avenue side of the 1854 courthouse, which houses high-level county government offices. Fred Homan, acting county administrative officer, wonders if the greenery provides cover for the rats' tunnels.

Such suspicions worry E. Avery Harden Jr., the county's landscape architect and guardian of the garden, who fears that some might want to "pave over everything." Instead of changing the garden, he said, workers should "first go after the source of the food. They're not eating those plants."

Despite numerous rat sightings, some courthouse visitors seemed unaware of the problem or the complaints it has engendered.

"Not here. This is a clean environment," said Paul Melvin, 30, of Woodlawn, who sat with several fellow jurors eating lunch recently at an outdoor table beside the newer county courts building.

A few feet away, a black rat trap was hidden behind a low wall.

Pub Date: 11/30/98

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