The housing department at UNL has been at the center of the bed bug storm. Associate Director Glen Schumann said it’s been the worst housing issue he’s had to deal with in his 42-year tenure.
Story and photos by Andrew Robeson, NewsNetNebraska
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s housing department has finally put a cost on its bed bug problem — and it’s a big one: $300,000 to date, and the costs are expected to continue.
But in releasing the figures, Glen Schumann, associate director of housing, wanted to make one thing clear.
“We are not going to pass the cost onto the student,” he said. “You can be rest assured that we’re going to deal with it.”
While Schumann acknowledged that housing officials weren’t expecting to have to pay an additional $300,000 for pests this year, he noted that some of the money used to cover the extra costs will come from excess energy funds left over from the mild winter.
More than two months have passed since UNL first detected bed bugs on campus. After bed bugs were found in several rooms, housing officials decided to search every dorm room on campus, one-by-one. The two companies hired for the job — Presto-X, a Lincoln based company, and Plunkett’s Pest Control Inc., based in Minneapolis — inspected the rooms with trained dogs and treated any rooms where bed bugs were found.
When the search was complete, 197 rooms had to be treated for bed bugs. At an average cost of $1,300 a room, the dollars added up quickly, Schumann said. Some of the costs involved in the search included the dogs and the equipment necessary to heat rooms to more than 120 degrees for four straight hours, which is what is needed to kill the bugs.
But the costs will continue to mount in a few months when housing officials say they will conduct another room-by-room search after all students leave for the summer. They’ll conduct yet another room-by-room search at the end of summer before students move in. Housing officials said they are taking those precautions to guarantee that all students will be moving into a bed bug free room in the fall, but even the inspections are costly.
UNL housing officials said that they faced many challenges in the bed bug treatment. However, the biggest issue stemmed from many students who had bed bugs but were embarrassed to come forward at first because they feared social rejection.
Many UNL students acknowledged that they would be hesitant to be around someone whose room had a bed bug infestation. Randall Matulka said he was particularly nervous.
“I live off campus, so if someone were to bring bed bugs to my house, the cost would be completely on me,” he said. “I wouldn’t have UNL treating my house for me.”
Schumann shares Matulka’s sentiment. He said the university has truly gone to great lengths — and expense — to protect its students.
“Can you say that about every landlord in Lincoln?” he asked.
Schumann, who has been working at UNL for 42 years, said the bed bug problem was by far the worst housing issue he has dealt with, including the removing of asbestos from several buildings on campus that happened during his tenure.
Even though there have been no reports of bed bugs since the treatments ended over a week ago, housing officials say that they still have many challenges ahead. One of those will be students returning from spring break. Students traveling for spring break could bring back bed bugs from their home or hotels. In an attempt to be preemptive, housing officials placed a flier in students’ mailboxes informing them of the best ways to avoid bringing bed bugs back to campus with them.
And at new student enrollment this summer, incoming freshmen will be informed of ways to avoid bringing bed bugs with them to school.
Housing officials will ask them not to bring in used furniture.
“The question is, will they listen? It’s not just furniture, it can be carpets and clothes too,” Schumann said.
Anyone on campus who suspects he or she might have bed bugs should contact housing immediately. Signs of an infestation include bites on the chest, neck or head, or streaks on bed linen.
Housing officials are quick to admit that they have taken a lot of flak for how they have handled the situation. However, Courtyards resident Andy Cihacek gives them credit.
“I thought they did the best they could,” he said. “They had every room checked within a month or two, and that isn’t easy to do.”