Baker tower sees first renovations complete in time for Homecoming

by Emma Demers | 10/27/16 12:50am

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by Emma Demers / The Dartmouth Staff

After being wrapped up in a scrim for most of the fall term, Baker Bell Tower — one of the College’s most iconic buildings — has been uncovered from its full-size photograph facade. Its first-ever renovation is complete just in time for Homecoming Weekend. According to Facilities Operations and Management program manager Patrick O’Hern, the entire restoration cost approximately $5.5 million.

While the bells in the tower were left unchanged, the surrounding structure received major upgrades.

Such changes include a revamped bell-ringing system, which first went digital in the 1980s and was upgraded to a Macintosh program in 1997, said Rauner Library archivist Peter Carini. Prior to having computer controls, the bells were rung manually. The recent project refitted the Baker Bell Tower with more modern controls for both the bells and clock face.

Additionally, the old copper was replaced, which will reinforce the building. Some of the tower’s new copper, such as the railing around the top, was encased in wood and painted white, while other parts, such as the roof of the tower, were left with a natural appearance. O’Hern said that one of the original debates between the planning team centered on whether to keep the natural copper color or make it green through a process called patination, which occurs through metal oxidation. While patination occurs naturally over time, the process can also be expedited through the use of oxidizing chemicals. Ultimately, the team decided to allow the copper to age naturally in order to preserve the patina’s authenticity.

The clock face, on the other hand, was not altered. While the clock’s internal mechanisms were replaced, the clock face itself was carefully reconstructed using archives from Rauner. Additionally, the louvers around the tower, which project the bells’ sound, and the original weathervane, which depicts Eleazar Wheelock and a Native American, were only repainted and restored.

The bell tower also received a new lighting system, which O’Hern said will “highlight the ornamental details without being overwhelming.” The new lights will be LED and will have dimming capabilities. While Hanover has a town ordinance against up-lighting — which includes light attachments to certain building exteriors — the town made an exception for the Baker Bell Tower due to its landmark status.

The Tower Room also received a full renovation, which included enhanced lighting, modern electrical outlets and new flooring.

In June 2015, Shawmut Architecture and Construction was contracted to design renovations that would preserve the school’s most well-known landmark. Carl Jay, head of Shawmut’s historic preservation department, emphasized the importance of staying true to the tower’s original design.

“My role is to describe why the building lasted so well for 100 years and then replicate that craftsmanship,” he said.

Carini noted that over the past century, the building had sustained “some pretty serious damage,” especially to the exterior. Modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Baker Bell Tower was built in 1928 to house a carillon — a musical instrument comprised of bells — that rang every hour, with tunes ranging from “Dear Old Dartmouth” to “Barbie Girl.”

Although the project was expensive, O’Hern said the investment will be worth it because the renovations are expected to last another 85 to 90 years.

Jay agreed, stating that the tower has several improvements that will last for many years.

“It was challenging to keep track of the level of detail,” he said, “But it was a full restoration that the school can be proud of.”

Baker Bell Tower tours will take place on Oct. 28, the Friday of Homecoming Weekend.