Invader squirrels eat homework, drive architecture students nutty

William Schertz

Every morning around 6:45, squirrels break into the fourth floor of Taylor Hall through the windows. Home to architect majors, the squirrels eat food and projects that students leave out.

Credit: Andrew popik

Having set up camp on the fourth floor of Taylor Hall, an architecture student smiles to himself, sighing in relief as he finishes the scale model he’s dedicated more hours to than there are in a day. He exits the room, briefly staring back at his foam masterpiece.

The next morning, he walks into the studio, only to find his model decimated.

Was it vandalism? No — It was the squirrels.

As strange as it might sound, squirrels have been invading the architecture studio in Taylor Hall for years, climbing through open windows and victimizing students by gnawing on, and sometimes trampling projects as they scamper across tables.

“It was trashed, complete shambles,” freshman architecture major Alexander Koch said, recalling an incident when he found two of his projects wrecked. “Thankfully, one was a final that was already graded, and the other was just a sketch model, so nothing too serious.”

Koch said he believes a squirrel was the culprit in this heinous crime.

“We put a lot more than just time into those projects, and for them to get destroyed can really get you down,” he said.

Freshman architecture major Melanie Hanson said squirrels also leave “presents” for the students in the form of squirrel poop.

“We pay good money to be in that space and use building materials, paper and supplies,” she said. “They are all very expensive, so I don’t want it wasted because some squirrel shit on my project.”

Hanson said that most of the professors in the department know about the squirrel problem, and give leeway on projects that have been trampled, defecated on and chewed.

“I’ve had the excuse ‘the squirrel ate my homework’ before,” architectural design professor Justin Hilton said. “The squirrels don’t have respect for anything. It’s quite problematic.”

Building curator Timothy Chandler said the squirrels are climbing into the building to find food.

“We try very hard to persuade students not to leave food in there,” he said.

Squirrels frequently enter the studio, eating out of garbage containers and stealing food students have left on their desks.

“Humans create the problem, not the squirrels,” said Michael McDonald, director of campus environment and operations, when explaining that some students feed the squirrels, making them more prone to enter the building.

Other students said putting in screens might help with the problem. Tom Euclide, director of architecture and engineering, said screens are not practical because they have to be installed from outside the building and would require a lot of maintenance.

Hilton, who was a student here several years ago, said squirrels were a problem then, too. His classmates found other ways to prevent squirrels from entering the building.

“They used to launch them off the window ledges,” Hilton said.

Hilton said that students in the class had positions as “scare tactics” and “launchers.” Scare tactics include banging on the windows to try to persuade squirrels to run a certain way along the ledge. Launchers would leave one window unlatched and use a pole to push it open while a squirrel was in front of it, knocking it off the building.

Hilton said students envisioned a squirrel “fraternity” on campus, and felt they were helping with the induction of its members.

“We saw ourselves as a necessary part of the squirrel-hazing process,” he said.

Hilton said none of the launched squirrels were injured by the fall.

While this method of squirrel deterrence has not caught on with current architecture students, many of them have started building squirrel traps.

“They’re up there trying to be creative, but it’s tough to put a 9-5 on creativity,” he said. “They design squirrel traps to help spark creativity.”

Hilton said, so far, no student in his class has caught a squirrel.

Contact building and grounds reporter William Schertz at [email protected].