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University of Northern Iowa restores iconic campanile with new bells
Third generation of bells brings new octaves to carillon repertoire
CEDAR FALLS — After months of silence, the campanile at the University of Northern Iowa will soon ring with new notes never before heard on campus.
This month, the University of Northern Iowa’s iconic campanile started the installation of 47 restored bells and nine new ones.
“This is unlike what they played before. This is just going to be a completely different experience in terms of capabilities,” said Hillery Oberle, assistant vice president for strategy, communications and campaigns with UNI Advancement.
The $2.2 million project, one of several substantial capital projects at Iowa’s smallest public university, is part of a $250 million campaign.
The campanile’s prelude
The campanile was first built on UNI’s campus in 1926, when the school was called the Iowa State Teachers College. The campanile’s original carillon, a 15-chime set, was produced by the Meneely Bell Foundry in West Troy, New York.
In 1968, The Verdin Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, added 32 new bells to the set.
The last major renovation to the campanile was in 1995.
Today, The Verdin Co. is the only full-service bell and clock company in the world, as well as the only traveling bell foundry in the world.
Now totaling 56 bells, the nine new bells will make a dramatic difference. The new bells will transform the carillon into a full 4.5-octave instrument, opening up a repertoire of new songs that were out of range for the tower’s first 97 years.
“The (first) 47 bells weren’t chromatic, which means there were missing notes. Every octave has 12 notes, but in the first octave of the carillon there were only 10 notes,” explained Tim Verdin, president of The Verdin Co.
The restoration filled in missing lower notes and added seven small treble bells.
Along with the new structure, the restored bell system will be fitted with a new transmission system that will connect the bells inside the tower to the console used by carillonneurs playing the bells from below. The interior of the tower also will be upgraded.
The restoration process
Work for the restoration started in October, when cranes removed the bells from the tower to be loaded onto a semi-trailer and transported to The Verdin Co.’s facility in Cincinnati.
Two things will be reused from the original carillon: the 47 bells that have been there since 1968 and their bell frame. Those bells had started to show wear and tear. With other work planned around the campanile, the university took the opportunity to not only restore them to their original glory, but add the new ones.
Over the last eight months, The Verdin Co. has been constructing new steel frames to carry the new bells and adding structure to the existing frames with new hardware, head pieces and clappers.
Though the older bronze bells didn’t have much deterioration, they’ve been blasted with glass beads to remove the green patina that characterizes aging bronze. Unlike most instruments, the bells that compose one of the largest types of instruments in the world don’t go out of tune, but “they’ll look brand-new,” Verdin said.
On May 3, the company started lifting the bells back into the tower by crane, moving several each day.
Why it matters
Though campaniles and carillons aren’t unique to the University of Northern Iowa, the symbol for UNI has been embedded in the hearts and minds of students in Cedar Falls for generations.
“People talk about the heart of our campus. It’s an iconic symbol,” said Oberle. “It’s the place we go in times of joy, in times of sadness, in times of protest, in times of celebration. You see people there on their first day on the UNI campus starting as a student, then throw their cap in the air there on graduation day.”
For nearly a century, the campanile has been the meeting place for students to kiss their sweethearts on Friday nights during Homecoming, the backdrop for graduation portraits, marriage proposals and offered a sense of unity for vigils.
After the new carillon is complete in June, the campanile’s ground-level plaza will be renovated with new landscaping and pavement.
“It will make it a much more inviting space in the center of campus,” said Oberle. “It’s the space people want to come to and spend time in.”
As the university prepares for its next hundred years, the campanile is just one of the projects funded through UNI’s $250 million Our Tomorrow Campaign which will include capital projects, scholarship support, student access and success support, faculty support and engaged learning. Since launching last fall, the campaign has raised $200 million.
Two other signature capital projects improvements planned for UNI’s “iconic spaces” include the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center and the UNI-Dome.
The UNI-Dome’s project, the largest project at $50 million, will be phased in as the stadium approaches 50 years of age.
“We’re in a place in our history right now that it’s time to renovate some of our iconic spaces,” said UNI President Mark Nook. “We couldn’t be more pleased to preserve this venerable piece of our campus for decades to come.”
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At a glance
Number of bells: 56
Total weight of all bells: 30,300 pounds — just over 15 tons
Largest bell: The C1, which measures 62.5 inches in diameter and weights 4,649 pounds
Smallest bell: The C, which measures 7.5 inches in diameter and weighs 25 pounds