Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Termites Gobble Historic School St. Augustine Fighting Pests

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Termites Gobble Historic School St. Augustine Fighting Pests

Article excerpt

Byline: Alexa Jaworski, Times-Union staff writer

ST. AUGUSTINE -- Caretakers for one of the city's most historic buildings are waging war against one of Northeast Florida's most voracious pests.

Centuries-old cedar and cypress panels that were used to construct the Oldest Wooden School House have become a smorgasbord for subterranean termites, which have left the aged structure with countless deep-running holes and grooves.

Preservationists are hoping the wood-destroying insects won't destroy one of the city's most popular tourist attractions, which was built in the 18th century and is believed to be the nation's first coeducational school.

Subterranean termites live in colonies in the ground and migrate into structures through wood where it meets soil. Once they have entered a structure, termites will feed on anything that contains cellulose, which is the most abundant naturally occurring organic substance on Earth.

Pest control experts estimate one out of every 17 houses in the St. Augustine-Jacksonville area has active termites.

St. Augustine seems to be particularly hard-hit. In the fall, the Lightner Museum -- a structure that includes City Hall -- was covered with an enormous orange and green tent so it could get its periodic treatment for termites.

"That's one of the major causes of decay in the downtown section," said Mark Knight, director of planning and building for the city. Most of the time, termite damage in the city's older buildings gets uncovered when the owners are remodeling. "You'll see some where, all the way up into the rafters, subterranean termites have weakened the studs."

"It's one thing when it's a house you can repair or rebuild, but this is a piece of history," said Jane Morris, assistant manager of the Oldest Wooden School House. "If it was lost entirely, it would be gone forever."

The school house and its kitchen were built with red cedar and cypress -- woods that, although known as natural termite repellents, still became food for the insects. …

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