University strikes a low note with Altgeld chimes player

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Daily Illini File Photo

Cody Jones, senior in LAS, performs the chime in Altgeld Hall on Sept. 19, 2015. Jones waits for updates on the status of the tower’s restorations.

By Luke Cooper, Staff Writer

On March 17, University administration cut off access to Altgeld Bell Tower for both tours and performances as a result of its American Disability Act and fire code violations.

Since then, students have only heard the tower’s carillon bells playing their programmed quarter-hour timekeeping function.

For many chimes players, the tower’s closure marked the ending of a hectic six-month period of uncertain, ambiguous communication with school administration on the tower’s future.

“We were all pretty surprised at the way things happened,” said chimes player and mathematics Ph.D. student, Dane Skabelund.

First, the University administration instructed a shutdown of public tours effective on Oct. 19, 2016, in response to the violations found in the tower that month. 

Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the funds for the Bell Tower’s initial repairs will come from the Office of the Provost. Kaler said the tower will reopen when it is compliant with all current safety codes.

Kaler did not clarify whether or not the tower’s reopening would be independent from the larger renovation of both Altgeld and Illini Halls, which according to an Illinois New Bureau release, has a $90 million budget that will be separate from the Altgeld Bell Tower’s funding.

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Featured in our first radio newscast, we got to hear some of Luke’s conversation with chimes player Cody Jones. Check it out above!

Skabelund said that chimes players were still expected to play despite the violations, so as not to bring attention to the tower’s status.

“(The administration) said, ‘OK, you can’t play,’ and, ‘Now you can play.’  It was kind of back and forth for a little bit,” he said. 

Skabelund said that chimes players weren’t allowed to tell people the tower was closed, or that they couldn’t take tours. 

“Basically we had to sneak into the tower more or less, unless we wanted to have some awkward interactions (with people wanting to take tours),” he said.

The Bell Tower unofficially reopened to the public on Jan. 26, though Cody Jones, former student and chimes player, and Skabelund said that no apparent changes had been made to the Bell Tower since its covert closure.

Discontent among chimes players compelled math adviser and chimes player Ernesto Machado to send an email on March 8 to Associate Provost for Capital Planning Matthew Tomaszewski, who oversees the Altgeld Bell Tower.

The chimes players requested information on the administration’s expected plans for the tower.

All chimes players helped to formulate the email, and signed off on it as a gesture of approval. 

“We were just blind. We didn’t have any information about when things were going to happen at all (with the tower),” Skabelund said.

The email also requested provisions to the tower, such as a paid position amongst chimes players, a public announcement of Chimes Master Sue Wood’s retirement, a ceremony in honor of her 30 years of service and a request to expedite necessary repairs in the tower.

Tomaszewski responded to Machado’s email on March 13, in an email that stated, “I write to inform you (Ernesto Machado) that your volunteer services are no longer needed in any capacity regarding the Altgeld chimes. Your volunteer role ends effective today, Monday, March 13, 2017.”

Tomaszewski did not respond to requests for comment.

Skabelund stressed the importance of tours for the public as being “crucial to recruiting new chimes players.”

Skabelund and Jones said most chimes players are initially interested in volunteering after going on the tours.

“We fear that these repairs will be extended until the Altgeld renovations, meaning the tower will be closed for the next few years,” Jones said. “All the chimes players will be long gone. Most chimes players might not ever get to play again.”

Since the tower’s closure, Skabelund said that communication between the administration and chimes players has ceased.

“I haven’t received a single thing, any update,” he said. “It’s only been a couple of weeks, but I think as they’re concerned, we just don’t exist anymore.”

University administrators told chimes players that repairs would start over spring break; however, Skabelund said the chimes players left a slip of paper in between the door leading to the tower before spring break as way to tell if anyone had entered during that time.

According to both Jones and Skabelund, the slip of paper is still there.

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