Athens, Ga. – The familiar clang of the University of Georgia’s famous Chapel Bell will be silenced for a while as necessary repairs are made to the bell and its tower. But officials promise the bell will be ready to celebrate a Bulldog victory in the season’s first football game Aug. 30.
The 173-year-old bell will be removed soon from its tower behind the Chapel and shipped to an out-of-state foundry for cleaning and reconditioning.
While it’s gone, the wooden tower-parts of which are almost a century old-will undergo repairs to shore up the housing that holds the bell 40 feet above the ground.
The work is necessary to ensure that the 700-pound bronze bell does not come loose from its moorings, as happened last fall after Bulldog football fans gave it what officials called a “vigorous” workout following Georgia’s victory over Florida. The bell dropped a few feet onto a wooden platform that kept it from falling to the ground.
Quick repairs allowed the bell to ring for the rest of the football season, but more extensive work is needed to make sure it stays securely in place, said Dexter Adams, head of the grounds department in UGA’s Physical Plant.
The bell hangs from a yoke that rests in two cast-iron A-frames attached to the wooden tower. The incident last fall occurred when the yoke snapped and the bell jumped out of the A-frames. It was temporarily repaired, but a new yoke is needed, Adams said.
Also, the A-frames are old and have been welded in the past, which weakened the metal, so they probably will be replaced, Adams said.
Along with the yoke and frames, there are concerns about the stability of the tower itself, which dates to around 1913, Adams said. No reliable records exist on repair and replacement work completed prior to 1994, raising questions about the tower’s structural integrity.
So while the bell is down, engineers will do a structural analysis to determine what needs to be done to ensure that both the tower and the mechanism holding the bell are safe, Adams said. The work will be carried out in the next few months.
Adams emphasized that nothing is wrong with the bell itself, which was cast in 1835 in Medway, Mass. It just needs a good cleaning and minor reconditioning. But only a few foundries can do the specialized work and they are all in other states, so the bell will be out of Georgia for a while.
The bell has actually been unusable for several weeks because Physical Plant workers disconnected the rope used to pull it and cordoned off the tower. Access to the area will remain blocked until the repair work is finished.
Adams said the bell will be taken down by the end of April. It traditionally is rung as part of the university’s annual memorial service honoring students, faculty and staff who have died in the past year, and arrangements are being made to get another bell for that ceremony on April 29.
Work on the tower will be done over the summer, and Adams promised that the bell will be in service when the Bulldogs and the Georgia Southern Eagles play in the first football game of the season Aug. 30.