Raccoon damage historic hospital museum

HARLINGEN — Blame it on the masked raiders.

Last month’s record 16.85 inches of rainfall over four days took its toll on Harlingen’s first hospital, a historic structure built in 1923 which now stands on the grounds of the city’s Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum.

Rain dripped through the hospital’s cedar shake roof via holes torn into the roof by raccoons, say museum officials, leading to the partial collapse of a drywall ceiling onto exhibits below.

Joel Humphries, director of the city’s arts and entertainment department, told the museum board the roof and ceiling repairs included putting metal flashing underneath new cedar shakes to deter future raccoon invasions. The cost for that and a new ceiling was $2,800.

“I never knew I would have to become an expert in raccoon mating rituals,” Humphries said after the board meeting yesterday. “Evidently, this is the time of year when they mate, and they go back to the same place every year to do it.

“So over the last three years we have had this increasing problem as we move into the summer months of these raccoons yanking these cedar shake shingles off of our buildings,” he added.

The leaky roof caused the collapse of a drywall ceiling in the old hospital building, dropping the soggy mess onto exhibits below.

Despite a quick moment of panic when the damage was discovered, Humphries said it could have been worse.

“It landed right on an exhibit table there in the hospital,” Humphries said. “Fortunately, because it’s a medical exhibit, its all porcelain and steel — nothing broke.”

This isn’t the first time the ongoing raccoon party at the museum site at 2425 Boxwood Street has cost the museum money for repairs. In addition to the hospital, other historic structures on the property include Harlingen founder Lon C. Hill’s home, the Paso Real Stagecoach Inn and the Historical Museum.

Humphries and the museum board say they’re committed to securing the old buildings. He said they’re not only fortifying the hospital roof with metal flashing, but they’re prepared to escalate the battle to keep them at bay.

“We’re going to make some pretty dramatic tree-trimming to pull the trees back significantly from the building, which is going to get rid of a lot of the shade that they throw out there, but they’re going to have to because I think (raccoons) are coming over and dropping down on the roof.

“Also I do think that most of those buildings are up on blocks because they’re older, so I think they’re holing up under those buildings during the day,” he added. “That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to get that skirting on, even if it’s just a temporary solution to keep them from coming and going from beneath those buildings.”