After almost two weeks of silence, the bells are coming back.
The Storke Tower bell carillon, an organ-like system of 61 bells of various sizes located at the top of Storke Tower, typically rings at 10 to the hour and on the hour. A programming failure within the carillon computer system caused the malfunction, Robert Wright of Facilities Management said. A university electrician reset the program early Tuesday morning, restoring the bells to working order.
“It’s good that we fixed them,” Wright said. “Students don’t really know what they have. They just hear the bells ringing.”
Without the bells, many students found that their classes ran over the allotted length.
“The bells are pretty important. A lot of teachers tend to go over if they don’t hear the bell. The bell is usually a signal for them to stop,” Josephine Chu, a senior business economics major said.
Robert O. Collins, professor emeritus of history, said he did not notice the bells were not ringing.
“To tell you the truth, I thought they were ringing, and I’m here every day. I guess I take them for granted,” Collins said. “Though I would find it very extraordinary for the administration not to see everything in order again. I really enjoy the carillon.”
Wright said he initially suspected that a flaw in the carillon’s computer caused the malfunctions, perhaps due to the older nature of the 10-year-old system which is responsible for the bells’ programmed rings.
On Tuesday morning, a university electrician accompanied Wright to the top of Storke Tower to examine the system. As Wright suspected and the electrician confirmed, the malfunction was due to a programming error within the computer.
“I had the electrician look at the problem. It somehow lost its programming, but he was able to reset it; it only took a couple of minutes,” Wright said.
Due to the small amount of labor required from the repair, costs for repairing the carillon should total no more than $50.
This is not the first time the carillon has failed to ring for an extended period of time. Between 1994 and 1999, the bell tower failed to ring regularly, if at all, due to structural damage in the tower and a need for refurbishing, Wright said.
“At one point it hadn’t worked for several years. Then, when we first turned it on, we were getting complaints from people, because [the bells] had been off for so long,” Wright said. “Margo Halsted came out a few years ago to rally the campus to refurbish them. She knows how unique these are.”
In the fall of 1998, Halsted, a visiting carillonist from the University of Michigan, volunteered her services to refurbish the decaying Storke Tower carillon, one of only five existing carillons in California. Over a four-month period, Halsted oversaw maintenance and repairs to the cables which control the bells, as well as repair of the leaky roof responsible for the cable damages. By March of 1999, the carillon was functioning again.
At the time, Halsted said of the carillon, “It is a treasure of the campus and a symbol of the university.”
Wright said he agrees the bells are important, but Facilities Management is limited in what it can do to keep the bells functioning at their best, and is funded only enough for preventative maintenance on the carillon. The preventative maintenance involves a specialized mechanic identifying any issues that might create more expensive and serious problems if left untreated. The carillon’s last check up occurred in 2001; the next is scheduled for next week. The procedure will cost an estimated $3,000, and will most likely last from Monday to Thursday, Wright said.
“We got kind of a deal on that, because we’re doing it at the same time as UC Riverside,” said Wright.
Facilities Management currently takes charge of the carillon’s upkeep, but Wright said there is no university organization officially designated to maintain it.
“The bells are kind of an orphan because no specific department is assigned to look after them. Some people actually take personal interest and call in about them, but there aren’t any special funds. Facilities Management keeps the bells going, but we’re not funded to do anything extraordinary. We’re only funded to do minimal work,” Wright said. “I think they’re looking for someone to step in and take care of them.”
Although some people did not notice the absence of the bells, some teaching assistants were affected by the bells’ failure to ring.
“A few of my sections didn’t start on time because I kept waiting for the bells to ring,” Keith Holt, teaching assistant for Art History 6G, said. “I ask if the bells have rung, and the students just stare at me like I’m crazy.”
Others were less affected.
“It hasn’t really affected me. Some students have been late, but they seem to be the late kind anyway. I wouldn’t attribute it to the bells,” said Summer Cameron, also a TA for Art History 6G.
David Wang, a senior business economics major said he disagreed.
“I really noticed it this morning,” he said. “I was waiting for my section to end – it’s really boring. But it just kept going.”