Supervisors give go-ahead for $32K Bell Tower repairs

Strikers for bells need replaced


With the 36th annual Bell Tower Festival looming, the Greene County board of supervisors Monday was essentially faced with two options — spend $32,650 to get the festival’s namesake tower chiming properly again or else go find a hunchback bell-ringer.

The supervisors voted unanimously to hire the Cincinnati-based Verdin Co. to fabricate five new electrical strikers for the tower’s timely Westminster chime.

“You’re not going to believe this,” Supervisor Tom Contner remarked before the vote, “but I’m voting aye.”

“They’re up there,” he said of the tower’s bells. “They have to work.”

While the Bell Tower Festival is only 36 years old, the Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower itself will turn 50 in October 2016.

One by one, the electrical strikers for the 14 individual bells have broken down. If the five-bell Westminster chime sounds a little off lately, that’s because the strikers that ring the largest two bells aren’t working.

The county could have tried fixing the two inoperable bells at a cost of $6,000, county Engineer Wade Weiss told the supervisors, or else buy five new strikers at a cost of $32,650.

“It’s an outdated system they haven’t supported for about 15 years,” Weiss said of the Verdin Co.

The other nine strikers need to be replaced as well, Weiss said, but those bells are only rung when played manually, which is rare.

To replace the nine other strikers would cost an additional $36,340, Weiss reported.

The Westminster chime is the only time the tower’s bells actually ring throughout the day, making the fix a priority, according to Weiss.

The music is generated by a music system that replicates the sound of 61 cast bells. A new digital music system was installed in December 2013 by the Mahanay Bell Tower Community Foundation at a cost of about $16,000.

Supervisor Guy Richardson said Monday that Weiss has been put in direct contact with Verdin because maintenance issues with the tower haven’t always been communicated by the foundation to the county, which technically owns the tower and the land.

The top of the tower also has water leakage issues, Weiss said.

The foundation, Richardson suggested, has been preoccupied for years with increasing the number of bells in order to make a true carillon out of the Bell Tower.

In order to be considered a true carillon, the tower would need at least 23 bells.

But as bellmaker Tim Verdin has told supervisors in the past, it’s an effort well worth undertaking — there are only about 400 carillons in the entire world.

The ultimate goal is for the Mahanay Bell Tower to boast a 48-bell, four-octave carillon.

Verdin recently quoted the cost of a new top structure capable of holding upwards of 45,000 pounds — in addition to the hanging of 15 upper-octave bells already purchased and on display in the courthouse lobby — at $148,000.

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