UVM upgrades campus clock

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Stephan Toljan/THE VERMONT CYNIC

Since April 2019, all four faces of the Ira Allen Clock Tower displayed incorrect times.

After a renovation of the clock mechanics, almost a year later, the clock now displays the correct time on every side.

Though the project to renovate the Ira Allen Clock Tower began in October, the internal mechanics of the clock were replaced with a new electronic device three weeks ago, said Sal Chiarelli, director of UVM Physical Plant.

Originally, the clock relied on a mechanism driven by a swinging pendulum within the tower.

The old mechanics were replaced with the electronic device to make the clock more accurate and more cost efficient, Chiarelli said.

This device allows the clock mechanics to be controlled by a computerized system that will set the time on each of the clock faces to the minute and will automatically adjust for daylight saving time, much like a digital watch or smartphone, he said.

Though the project cost around $60,000 in total, the investment on the clock is worth it, Chiarelli said.

UVM won’t have to worry about readjusting the clock faces every couple of months, and clock maintenance will be cheaper in the long run, he said.

Stephan Toljan/THE VERMONT CYNIC
Master electrician Richard Trieb stands in front of one of the new control boxes in the Ira Allen Clocktower, Feb. 28. Trieb installed and wired all of the new clock control boxes, as well as the main control unit.

The Physical Plant Department also worked with the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation to update the clock’s mechanics without jeopardizing the historical integrity of the clock tower, Chiarelli said.

Construction on Ira Allen Chapel first started in 1925.

VDHP works to help modernize historic buildings all over Vermont, including UVM, said Laura Trieschmann, state historic preservation officer.

VDHP meets with UVM Physical Plant every month to discuss projects and ideas for UVM campus, she said.

“Sometimes when you’re dealing with a historic resource, you’re trying to do a cheap fix that a historic building doesn’t necessarily marry well with,” she said. “We come in and give some free professional advice about historic buildings. We have some good teamwork.”

In the case of the tower, VDHP made sure the installation of new mechanisms didn’t damage the inside of the tower so the structure would remain intact, she said.

“When you start altering something, a lot of times you have to take a little bit of a building’s history,” she said. “And then you have to take a little bit more and a little bit more and eventually, you’re left with nothing.”

The most challenging part was replacing the original wooden hands of the clock with a lighter and more durable metal material while keeping the original design of the clock hands, but working with the physical plant made the work relatively easy, she said.

“They really did their homework and knew exactly what we were looking for,” she said.

Students don’t look at the clock tower to tell time, first-year Tony Mitchell said.

“I knew the clock wasn’t right, but I didn’t know they fixed it,” he said. “I haven’t looked at the clock in months.”

Fixing the clock is still important to UVM, Chiarelli said.

“It’s mostly a decoration now because most people just use their phones or watches,” he said. “But the clock tower is beautiful, and we want to make sure that it’s telling at least close to the right time.”

Overall, the Physical Plant Department is happy to be servicing UVM’s campus, Chiarelli said.

“We’re always trying to improve campus so it’s safer or more efficient,” he said.