HANCOCK COUNTY — They call it the Bat Cave: the basement of the Hancock County prosecutor’s office, where several employees have offices.
The area of the building recently lived up to the name when employees found a bat hanging around in one of the deputy prosecutor’s offices.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a surprise. This wasn’t the first time officials in the building have had to deal with the little animals. The first week Prosecutor Brent Eaton was on the job, in 2015, a bat popped up in his office and was chased out the window by Shelli Poppino, the director of operations.
“I think I’ve caught at least three of the bats that have been in here and released them,” Poppino said. “I usually use a trash can and a lid to a box.”
Poppino, who has been working in the old building for a decade, said they’ve always had issues with bats getting inside.
Things really got out of hand back in the fall when people working in the building could hear critters moving inside the walls. Hancock County Commissioners were immediately made aware of the issue and sent maintenance over right away to deal with the problem of extracting the bats.
Maintenance workers and a bat expert found dozens of bats were roosting under the roof on the north side of the building.
“We looked up there with a flashlight and there were a whole mess of them up there,” Eaton said. “I mean there were a lot!”
According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources website, several species of bats are regularly associated with living in or near buildings in Indiana. They use the buildings for maternity colonies, hibernating and to roost when they’re not flying around looking for food.
Maintenance workers took care of the problem right away by making the area difficult for bats to inhabit, but apparently some are still literally hanging around.
The latest visitor took up temporary residence in deputy prosecutor Adriana Zeljkovic’s office. One of the ceiling panels had been moved aside after workers installed a heating unit to help keep the lower level of the building warm. Eaton and others think one of the bats got into the office that way.
Zeljkovic, whose family is originally from Yugoslavia, didn’t freak out too much and said her mother told her their culture indicates a bat is a sign of good luck.
She and Shannon Crull, the county’s victim-assistance coordinator, have their offices in the same area of the basement and said they’re extra careful when they enter the office.
Eaton is well-aware having bats in the old building is somewhat comical, but he knows it’s also a serious issue.
“What are we gonna do?” Eaton said. “We can’t stop working, but our number one priority is to make sure we have a safe place for our employees to work.”
County officials have been supportive, Eaton said. Dean Mullins, head of maintenance, has now been given the nickname “Batman” for working to rid the building of the bats.
“They will find places to hibernate in the winter,” Mullins said. “But we’ve sealed off any areas where we think they can get into the building.”
According to the DNR website, hibernating bats should not be disturbed. Mullins has told employees the recommendation is don’t touch them and call Batman.
There are no official plans to leave the old building anytime soon, Eaton said. Plans to vacate the 19th-century structure — which at one time housed the county jail — were put in limbo when voters in 2018 rejected a property tax referendum to raise revenue to relocate several county offices. But county officials are still talking about creating more space somewhere once a new jail is completed sometime next year.