By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Residents near Columbia University's West Harlem expansion say the construction has unleashed some unwelcome visitors: mice and rats.
Alicia Barksdale, president of the 3333 Tenants Association, said the 35-story building at Broadway and 135th Street has seen a recent jump in rat and mice activity.
"It's to the point where rats run in to the building through the lobby," Barksdale said. "If you got to 3333 Broadway at night you'll see a rat running across the street with its whole family. You try to stomp to scare them and they stomp back at you."
One woman at a Community Board 9 meeting with the university last week said she had found a hole created by mice in her apartment that wasn't there before construction started.
"Now the mice run from my neighbor's house to my house," she said. "There are big holes in front of the building where the mice run."
But the university says they are not to blame.
Columbia said that they have had experts working on pest control management since they started the expansion project. They said they took many precautions before starting construction, including surveying the entire area to determine the rat population and baiting and trapping.
Rodents are also tracked during activity and a follow-up survey is done when construction is complete.
Manny Guzman, the owner of bug and rodent extermination service Pestrol, was hired by the university. He said he doesn't doubt that area residents have a rodent problem, but said he did not believe the university expansion was the problem.
"Anything is possible but based on our work in the area, we don't think that's the case. We survey the area before and after construction and haven't seen any increase in rodent activity," Guzman said after addressing area residents last Thursday.
The university said they have also been working with Jill Gordon, a rodentologist and pest management specialist.
Columbia is expanding into 17 acres of land from West 129th to West 133rd streets, between Broadway and 12th Avenue. The $6.3 billion plan will see the creation of 6.3 million square feet of space, with the first phase of the project scheduled to be completed by 2015. Later phases are scheduled to be completed by 2030.
The university is also currently undertaking a $22.6 million expansion of storm and sanitary sewers between 125th and 131st streets in the area of Broadway and Marginal Street. That work will continue until spring 2012.
The university is also planning an information session with residents about pest prevention measures.
"Columbia is committed to an ongoing dialogue with the community," said Victoria Benitez, a spokeswoman for the university.