Reconstructing a historic bat tower in Temple Terrace and how to build your own bat roost

It just so happens that little Temple Terrace was the site of a grand scientific experiment in the 1920s. The original "Temple Terrace Bat Tower" (or "Hygiostatic Bat Roost", as it was coined by its inventor) was built on the banks of the Hillsborough River by Temple Terrace's original developers in 1924 and was based on the plans of a Dr. Charles Campbell, an early pioneer of bat studies and subsequent Nobel Peace Prize nominee.  Campbell's intent was to create a structure that would act as a roost for bats (much like a birdhouse for birds), so that the bats would eat the local mosquitoes that caused malaria. It's unclear if bats ever lived in the tower in Temple Terrace, or any of his other roost structures, but our tower stood like a silent sentinel on the banks of the Hillsborough River until it was burned down by unknown arsonists in 1979; only the concrete legs and base now remain.

Today, there are three Campbell bat towers still in existence (out of an original fourteen world-wide, including seven in Italy): one in the Florida Keys on Sugarloaf Key, one in Comfort, Texas, and the last one in Shangri-La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center in Orange, Texas.  All of the towers measured 10 feet square wide at the base and were 40 feet tall from ground level to the top of the roof.

Efforts to reconstruct the tower, one of Temple Terrace's greatest icons, have been on and off going for years. The tower was in the process of being relocated to a nearby park and placed on the National Register when it was burned down in 1979 (suspicious timing don't ya think?). Later efforts fizzled when it was realized that the original concrete legs and base could not be salvaged. The latest effort (and hopefully the last) to reconstruct the tower was begun several years ago. As a local project architect with experience in park structures and interpretive centers, it's become a habit of mine to get involved in projects that connect as many sustainable ideas as possible. Temple Terrace's tower is no different: we would recreate an historic icon, allow the city to reduce its use of harmful pesticides, provide habitat for local native bats, create a local tourist attraction (more on this later), plus the tower was just plain cool (and "green") and worthy of being rebuilt.

[image-1]The current plan is to rebuild the tower based on measurements taken from the remains of our tower and the existing historic Campbell bat tower on Sugarloaf Key, Florida. The exterior proportions, structure, and materials of the new tower will match (exactly) those of our previous historic tower. The interior of the tower will be re-configured with assistance from Cyndi and George Marks of The Florida Bat Conservancy so it will be a functional roost. The proposed site for the new tower is based on research by the Marks and will be in the soon to be opened 150-acre Temple Terrace Riverfront Park, which was purchased with ELAPP funds in the 1980s. The tower will be the focal point for the new park and will complement the 'bat tower-viewing pavilion' which was designed and constructed by USF School of Architecture and Community Design (SACD) students in 2008.

[image-2]The viewing pavilion was designed and built as a green and sustainable project by USF SACD professor Stanley Russell and his students as the 2008 Design/Build class project. The location of the future tower will be directly north of the pavilion. As far as green building materials, the pavilion utilizes rammed earth walls (see photo, more commonly seen in the Southwest US), recycled pallet material for the benches, laminated roof beams which the students constructed themselves, and bamboo roof struts (with metal rods inside). The pavilion also has a concrete amphitheatre area and in the future will have interpretive material on the bat tower and bats. This pavilion recently won the 2009 Planning Commission Award of Excellence for "Green" projects.

Citizens have recently formed a reconstruction committee for the tower and they're currently accepting donations for this worthy project. They will also be pursuing grants and seeking corporate sponsors for equipment, materials and/or labor, and will also be pursuing corporate sponsors at various levels, from naming rights to having their name on a bronze plaque located on site.

I'm currently working on the drawings for the new tower and when finished with have preliminary cost estimates done. Until then we won't have a definite cost estimate for the tower reconstruction but we have estimated the reconstruction cost to be around $65,000. We foresee that there will be in-kind donated labor and materials, so the exact out of pocket cost will be reduced. $7,500 has been raised so far.

If you're interested in making a tax deductible contribution to the Temple Terrace bat Tower fund, send your check made out to the City of Temple Terrace, referenced for the Bat Tower Project, and addressed to Al Latina, Friends of the Temple Terrace Parks and Recreation, 7002 Doreen Street, Tampa, Florida 33617. The donations will be placed in a special city account created for the project. If you'd like to volunteer for this project please contact Al Latina at 813-988-6794 or [email protected].

As mentioned earlier, the new reconstructed tower will be a major tourist attraction and destination for Temple Terrace and the surrounding area. Below are numbers from similar large bat roosts in Gainesville, Florida, and Austin, Texas:

Gainesville, Florida

· 250,000 bats

· 10,000 visitors a year

· $1 million dollars every year as a tourism attraction, value to local agriculture may be greater

Austin, Texas

· 1,500,000 bats live under the Congress Avenue Bridge

· 100,000 visitors a year

· $10 million dollars every year as a tourism attraction, value to local agriculture may be greater

Locals and tourists congregate by the hundreds on Summer evenings in Gainesville and Austin to see the spectacle of hundreds of bats emerging from their roosts for a night of insect hunting. Check out the following Youtube videos of Gainesville and Austin:

Gainesville, Florida roost


Austin, Texas roost


The amount of bats the Temple Terrace tower will have will be between Gainesville and Austin, or about 600,000 bats.

A bat roost for your yard.

If you'd like to have a bat roost in your own yard, or in your community, the first thing to know is that bats are quite particular about where their roosts are located.

Regarding roost locations, here are a few tips from the Florida Bat Conservancy regarding selecting and locating your roost:

· Larger bat houses seem to have a higher occupancy rate than smaller ones.

· For the average homeowner, mounting on a post is likely the most desirable option.

· Experience indicates that the bat species that will move into bat houses prefer warm roosting sites, so locate your bat house where it will get at least six hours of sunlight.

· The bat house should be located at least ten feet above the ground.

· Bat houses located on a dock, or on the edge of a lake, pond, or other open fresh water body, are often occupied in a few months. If possible, locate the bat house within a quarter mile of open fresh water.

· Be patient, it often takes a few years before bats move in.

The size of the roost of the roost depends on what the roost location can support. Most homeowners will want a smaller roost, which you can either build yourself  or purchase.

In 2008, I created a set of drawings for the Florida Bat Conservancy for a Community Bat Roost (see page 3 on the hyperlink).  This set of plans will be given be given away free of charge "to land owners, community leaders, governmental agencies, and others interested in constructing a community bat house". The community roost measures 8 foot by 8 foot square, is roughly 16 feet tall and will hold roughly 40,000 bats. The Florida Park Service has already constructed several of these larger roosts on public lands in Florida.

Cyndi and George Marks of The Florida Bat Conservancy also conduct an excellent children's program for schools and children's groups. For a nominal donation they will bring several of their live bats from around the world to introduce bats and foster an understanding of these misunderstood but beneficial creatures. If you think you have a group of children (adults enjoy the presentation as much as the children) that would benefit from this presentation please contact Cyndi or George of the The Florida Bat Conservancy, Bay Pines, Florida at (727) 710-BATS or (727) 710-2287 or [email protected].

This post is about bat conservation: efforts in Temple Terrace to reconstruct an historic tower for bats, a large community bat roost I designed for the Florida Bat Conservancy, and how you can purchase (or build) your own bat roost.

Folks have long thought that installing birdhouses is beneficial, but the idea of placing roosts for bats is a recent one. Bats are not the feared, repulsive creatures of the night that folklore and superstition have made them out to be.  Bats are not blind, they do not attack people, they do not get caught in people's hair, and they are not flying rodents. Not all bats are rabid, in fact, "studies have shown that less than one percent of bats contract rabies, and when they do, they usually die within three or four days". Bats are an important and beneficial part of the natural Florida environment, for instance, a single bat is capable of eating 500-1000 mosquitoes per hour!

Growing up in Temple Terrace I had many uniquely Florida experiences as I explored this eighty year old city with my brothers and sisters: the mysterious Hillsborough River; moss draped, crumbling 1920s Mediterranean Revival buildings; the ancient live oaks and longleaf pines; the Olmstedian 1920s golf course; and of course, the sublime and gothic bat tower. That's right, I said "bat tower"!

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