Bells return to UNI campanile as renovation moves forward

Work on the bells that ring out the music from the campanile on the University of Northern Iowa campus in Cedar Falls is moving right along.

UNI Assistant Vice President Hillery Oberle says 15 bells were installed when the campanile was built in 1926, and 32 more were added in 1968. The brass bells were okay, but the operating systems were showing their years of wear.

“The connection pieces and things that suspend them in the campanile, the transmission system that controls the clappers, down to the plain keyboard, and then also the playing keyboard were really showing signs of age and weather,” she says. All but a few of the bells were removed and lowered to the ground to be worked on. They decided to add a couple of bells while everything was being refurbished.

“While we were doing that we knew we had the opportunity to fill in a couple of the musical gaps in the carillon,” Oberle says. ” When they cast the first bells they did not do two of the largest bells. So the C sharp and the D sharp. Those were not a part of our time or our carillon.” Seven new small bells at the other end of the music spectrum are also being added.

“So for those musically inclined it means that we have a five-octave instrument that is has four octaves that are fully chromatic,” Oberle says. They reworked the infrastructure and put in steel beams to carry the weight of the bells — which range from 20 pounds for the smallest bell to four-thousand pounds for the largest.

Oberle says the campanile is a key campus landmark for students, faculty and alumni. “You know it holds different types of memories for everybody. It might be where you took your graduation photo, we have so many stories of people who proposed at the campanile,” Oberle says. “You know a tradition is to go campaniling and kiss your sweetheart at midnight at the campanile. So a lot of great stories it’s really the center of the campus.” She says it’s where the university comes together to celebrate and sometimes come together and in sadness.

They took advantage of having the bells out on the ground to recreate a picture of the UNI president and others lined up with the bells before they were first installed in 1926. The $2.2 million campanile renovation is one the iconic spaces projects along with the Gallagher Blue Dorn and UNI-Dome renovation.

Cranes started hoisting the bells back up to their hanging spot Wednesday.  Getting the campanile operating again is part one of the project. “The second part of the project will revitalize the plaza surrounding the campanile. So new paving, new seating areas, new landscaping,” she says. “That all has taken a bit of a beating as we’ve had construction on the carillon going on etcetera.”

They’ve raised $1.5 million so far to fund the project.