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Memorial Bell Tower Dismantled

Bells to ring again in 2006.

March 07, 2005

For 66 years, the bells of the Memorial Bell Tower marked the beginning of the day for generations of Andover students. “I remember running from Rockwell Hall to Commons. If you didn’t get there before the bells stopped tolling, you were locked out of breakfast and earned a demerit,” says William H. Morris ’45.

But time, rust and design flaws took their toll on Andover’s most familiar landmark, built to memorialize 85 alumni who died in World War I. Rust on the internal steel structure caused cracks in the exterior brick, and the bells themselves needed repairs. In 1989, the bells fell silent.

Bell TowerHowever, following a $5.15 million restoration effort, the bells will finally ring again in 2006. The technically challenging project involves dismantling the tower brick by brick, constructing a new tower that appears identical on the outside, cleaning and tuning the original English bells and adding new bells so the carillon can once again signal events in the academy’s life.

“The tower is a tribute to the school, the community and all who have served in the American military,” says Morris, head agent of the class that was first to create a fund for the tower’s restoration. Younger alumni, too, are enthusiastically supporting the project. Even though they had never actually heard the bells, the Class of 2003 dedicated its senior gift to the tower.

The bell tower was designed by noted architect Guy Lowell, based on the steeple of Boston’s Old South Meeting House. Built with a gift from Samuel Lester Fuller, Class of 1894, the tower stands on the historic Training Field, where military companies drilled during the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World War I.

At its dedication in 1923, Headmaster Alfred Stearns said, “The Memorial Tower that now adorns the Andover campus is bound to crystallize the sentiment and grip the hearts of all Andover men.”

Through the years, the bells were a familiar sound on campus, summoning students to classes, providing Sunday afternoon concerts for town residents and passing motorists and ringing on other occasions as well. “By 1989, the carillon needed repair, and the single open stairway providing access for the carilloneur was hazardous,” says Michael Williams, director of physical plant. From an engineering viewpoint, the bell tower had been poorly designed, and cracks had developed throughout the brick and steel structure.

The building had fallen victim to two forms of expansion—rust-jacking and ice-jacking. When the inner steel structure began to rust, it expanded, causing small cracks in the surrounding brick. As water got into those cracks, it froze and expanded. “The ice and rust were forcing the building apart, a process that accelerated over time,” says Williams. “We realized we had a significant restoration problem. Our short-term answer was to seal up the building; the long-term solution is to fix the core problems.”

By January 2005, more than $4.7 million had been raised for the project. Lead gifts have been made by Trustee Emeritus David M. Underwood ’54 and the Weaver family—David ’61, daughter Christina Weaver Vest ’89 and son Andres ’92. The Weavers requested their gift be used to dedicate the bells in memory of Joshua Miner, former PA teacher, admission director and founder of Outward Bound USA.

Other generous gift has been received from former Los Angeles Times owner and publisher Otis Chandler ’46. Part of a three-generation West Coast alumni family that includes himself, son Harry ’71 and granddaughter Margot ’00, Chandler made a leadership pledge in honor of his family.

F. Frederick Jordan Jr. ’43 also made a generous pledge, followed by one from Helen Donegan of Laguna Hills, Calif., who has no connection to PA other than being a friend of Jordan and Donald S. Burns ’43.

Crosby Kemper ’45 and John Ryan ’45 have issued a challenge grant to their classmates, which they hope will result in a 60th reunion gift of $700,000 from the Class of 1945. Morris is not surprised by the support this project has received from his classmates, many of whom are war veterans and now in their late 70s. “We want to hear the bells ring again before we hear whatever kind of bells there are upstairs or downstairs,” he jests.

The existing tower has 37 bells—19 English bells from the original installation and 18 Dutch bells purchased in the 1960s to replace the upper treble bells. The largest bell, which plays low E, weighs 2,347 pounds. “Unfortunately, when the Dutch bells were added, the technology for matching tonality was not as sophisticated as it is now,” says Williams. “The bells sound slightly off.”

The Dutch bells will be replaced by new bells being cast by Royal Eijbouts in The Netherlands. So that the upper range of carillon music can be played as written, the number of bells will be expanded to allow four full octaves of music. The inside of the tower is being redesigned to hold 49 bells and to allow them to be removed and serviced when needed. Patrick Mocaska of Ann Arbor, Mich., who is both a carilloneur and an architect, is serving as a special consultant for the bells.

Memorial Bell TowerA touch-sensitive electronic system, featuring a keyboard on the ground floor with wires connected to the bell clappers, will be installed to sound the bells, which remain stationary when played. One advantage of this electronic system is that students can practice and record their music on a synthesized version without the whole community hearing their practice sessions. Only when one hits “play” will the bells ring out. Music from other carillons can be downloaded from the Internet and played on the new PA carillon. There also will be a remote control so the bells can sound while the “ringer” is at another location.

The Board of Trustees approved the project for construction last October. John Galanis, who has overseen construction of the Gelb Science Center, Harrison Rink and Phelps Stadium and the restoration of Cochran Chapel, is project manager. He calls this project a challenge because it is so technically precise, requiring a lot to be accomplished within a very small footprint. The design team includes architects Bruner/Cott and structural engineers MacLeod Consulting. The contractor, Consigli Construction, has just completed Bowdoin College’s bell tower.

The winter months are being used to gather materials. Bricks to match the existing ones are being manufactured, and new bells are being cast. Between mid-March and mid-April, depending on the harshness of the New England winter, Williams expects the dismantling of the existing tower to begin. The belfry that tops the tower will be taken down in sections and the bells removed. The existing steel structure will be removed, and the tower will be taken down brick by brick.

Beginning in July 2005, the tower will be rebuilt with a reinforced cinderblock core and brick veneer. “The exterior tower will look the same, but the interior structure will be totally different,” says Williams. Most of the granite on the base will be restored rather than replaced.

The scheduled completion date is January 2006. Even though the tower will be down during his class’s 60th reunion this June, Morris says his classmates will be pleased to see construction under way. “It shows the academy’s commitment to rebuild,” he says. “I’m going to encourage all my classmates to come back the following year and witness the rededication. We’re going to arrive in force.”