University Restoring Keen Johnson Carillon

photo of bell

The arrival of spring at Eastern Kentucky University is marked annually by an explosion of floral color and fragrance.

If all goes as planned, Spring 2014 on The Campus Beautiful will also tickle the ears.

Silent and in need of repair for several years, the 37-bell carillon atop the Keen Johnson Building will join the returning songbirds in welcoming the new season.

Dedicated in 1971 and used frequently for decades, the carillon fell into disrepair in recent years. A restoration project now underway is expected to be completed sometime this coming Spring.

“The tradition of towers or carillons associated with universities dates back to campuses as old as Oxford and Cambridge,” said EKU President Michael Benson. “Ringing bells to signify events such as graduation or even the passage of time is another tradition we intend to establish at Eastern. While EKU isn’t quite as mature as England’s finest universities, it nonetheless has a history just as proud and unique.”

Representatives of The Verdin Company, the original installer, were on campus on Monday, Dec. 16, to remove the bells, which range in weight from 25 to 1,000 pounds, and transport them to the firm’s plant in Cincinnati.

Company officials said the cast bronze bells are in good condition, but need new supporting hardware as well as a new supporting frame structure. All the existing internal components in each bell will be removed, and each bell will be cleaned to be free of all deteriorated components. Each bell will be sand blasted and wire-brushed to present a like-new finish.

A new structure-steel bell frame will be constructed to accommodate all static and dynamic loads based on modern engineering standards, and a custom spring isolator system will isolate vibrations to the bell tower structure.

The project also includes the addition of a master control system that utilizes state-of-the-art electronic technology with complete programming systems for fully automatic and semi-automatic control of the carillon, even remotely, according to Verdin.  Users will be able to move the console anywhere.

The Carillon Master will be pre-packaged with 100 custom melodies, including holiday and other seasonal selections, and can contain up to 10,000 music selections, which can be recorded on site using the included keyboard. The system also will be capable of celebration peals, Westminster chimes, time strikes, tolls, and scheduling.

Benson also spoke of a “symbolic element” to the carillon.

“Just as one cranes the neck to look upward … to hear the magnificent bells, in so doing one is forced to look skyward,” he said, “symbolizing a rising future for EKU and our graduates. It promises to be a remarkable addition to The Campus Beautiful.”

EKU’s contract with Verdin is for approximately $253,000. With some additional work provided by the University, the total cost will run approximately $300,000.

Based in Cincinnati, Verdin is one of the oldest family-owned companies in America. Its craftsmanship, spanning 160 years, is displayed in more than 20,000 towers and installations throughout the world, including the Smithsonian Institution, Walt Disney World, University of Notre Dame, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and the Mayo Clinic. Verdin has pioneered several breakthroughs in the bell and clock industry, including the first municipal tower clock installation in 1870 and the introduction of electronic bell carillons in 1946.

Published on December 18, 2013