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University of Illinois bells silent during $160,000 repairs

When a student wins an academic scholarship, Illinois public universities, such as the University of Illinois (above), unfairly cut the student's other financial aid, writes Robin Redmond of the George M. Pullman Educational Foundation. | AP file photo

URBANA — The bells at the University of Illinois are now silent as its tower undergoes more than $160,000 in repairs.

The goal is to resume the Altgeld Chimes’ noontime concerts by next fall, but it isn’t clear when, if ever, they’ll be open to public visitors again, The Champaign News-Gazette reported.

A safety inspection last October after the retirement of longtime chimesmaster Sue Wood led the campus to suspend the popular public tours. About 2,000 people visit the bells each year for daily concerts at 12:45 p.m.

The chimes were shut down completely March 17 for repairs after more problems were discovered.

Officials say public tours aren’t likely to resume until a much larger renovation of Altgeld is complete. The $90 million project is several years away.

The nearly 100-year-old bell tower is accessible from the third floor of Altgeld Hall. A steep staircase leads up to the playing room, a small attic area filled mostly by the seven-foot chimes stand, a practice chimes stand and a giant wooden keyboard.

Visitors have crowded into the playing room for years to watch Wood and others pump the chimes stand’s wooden levers, which connect to cables that ring clappers in the 15 bells. Visitors would climb a short staircase to the outdoor roof above the playing room and then climb another 35-foot caged ladder to the bell platform.

“We let the world go up there and not think another thing about it,” Wood said. “Who knew any better? It had always been done.”