Power problem has stopped UC Berkeley’s Campanile clocks, hourly bells

Michael Drummond/File
Michael Drummond/Senior Staff
Michael Drummond/File

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Because of an electrical system malfunction, the hourly bells of the Campanile stopped ringing as the gears of the tower’s clocks came to a standstill June 12.

Christine Shaff, spokesperson for the campus real estate division, said in an email to UC Berkeley staff that the campus’s Facilities Services Unit will propose a solution after diagnosing the problem.

According to Shaff, the electrical system that powers the clocks is unique to Sather Tower, otherwise known as the Campanile. As a result, repairs to the clock system may require unique parts “that take a while to fabricate and install,” she said.

The tower’s bell music will not be affected, and the daily carillon performances will continue according to a fixed summer schedule, Shaff said.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Campanile’s construction. The clocks previously stopped running in April after they were offset during a nearly two-hour-long power outage, which caused the bells to ring off the hour mark.

According to James Androuais, a manager at the tower clock and bell manufacturer Americlock Inc., the most common causes for clock tower malfunctions are gear troubles and electrical problems. Electrical problems can be caused by an energy surge from the grid, a lightning strike or a problem in the physical motor, he said.

Depending on the parts being replaced, solving an electrical problem could be as simple as repairing or replacing the controller, which can take a few days, to replacing gears and other parts, which can take anywhere from weeks to months, he said.

Different manufacturers and towers have different proprietary parts, according to Androuais. In repairing any tower, especially one as unique as the Campanile, using parts from another clock for repairs could be “like trying to put a GM part on a Toyota”: Though possible, it would likely cause problems, he said.

Jeff Davis, who has been the university carillonist since 2000, said that though the bells are fine, the carillon’s transmission system, which allows the keys to play the bells, is about 10 years beyond its normal life expectancy and needs to be replaced.

The carillon is played manually and is independent of the hour strike, which is controlled by the clock system, Davis said.

More information on the status of the Campanile’s clocks will be available in the near future, according to a campus press release.

Contact Abdullah Mirza at [email protected].