Can't be too careful taking care of carillons
URBANA — Keeping up with maintenance on giant bells when they're 15 stories off the ground poses certain safety challenges.
The 185-foot-tall McFarland Campanile, built in 2008 on the University of Illinois South Quad, will be getting new safety equipment this summer to protect crews working on the carillon bells near the top of the tower.
The UI is spending $234,000 to install additional tie-offs that connect to safety harnesses and other equipment to prevent falls. The project should be completed by Sept. 1, said Andrew Blacker, spokesman for UI Facilities and Services.
The new equipment wasn't included in the original scope of the project.
"This is an additional safety precaution," Blacker said.
The carillon bells, and the computerized system that operates them, require regular adjustments, calibration and preventive maintenance, such as rotating the mechanism that rings the bells so that it doesn't always strike in the same place, Blacker said.
The campus has a five-year, $78,700 contract with the Verdin Co. of Ohio for the work, which is touted as the world's largest manufacturer of bells, clocks and carillons. The contract covers technicians servicing the bells and related equipment in the fall and spring each year, Blacker said. Other work requires an additional charge.
"They've been here whenever we've had an issue or a problem," he said.
It was Verdin that recommended the additional safety measures, he said. There have been no falls or other injuries related to the maintenance work, he said, characterizing the new measures as preventive.
"As they did more and more, they realized there was an opportunity to improve safety," Blacker said.
"We're trying to be proactive with the safety of that structure."
The new equipment will comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards, he said.
To protect pedestrians, the area around the tower has been roped off as a staging area during the construction.
The campus will pay for the work with institutional funds, money the university sets aside primarily from grants and contracts.
The $3 million Sarah McFarland Campanile was funded in part with a $1.5 million gift from UI alumnus H. Richard McFarland in honor of his late wife. It sits just west of the ACES Library and houses a four-octave, 49-bell carillon. The campanile is among the tallest structures on campus and chimes every hour.
Plans for a bell tower on campus date back to the early 20th century. In 1920 University Architect James White presented a proposal for the structure, and original plans for Memorial Stadium included a campanile on the surrounding grounds. But by the late 1920s the idea had been abandoned.
McFarland, a 1952 UI graduate, revived the idea with his gift, arranging for the architect and contractor.
The project generated controversy because of its electronic carillon, which can't be played manually. Veteran chimes master Sue Wood, who has played the 15-bell chimes at Altgeld Hall since 1971, and other experts complained that the sound wouldn't compare to the nuanced music produced by playing bells manually.
Wood wrote that "spending over a half-million dollars on cast bells that will be played only electronically will result in an instrument that surely will be the laughingstock of the carillon world."
UI officials said at the time it would cost another half-million dollars to adapt the carillon so it could be played manually, but its design would allow it to be retrofitted if donor funding became available later.