Retrofit of Historic Structure Enhances the Music of the Bells

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Structural engineers encounter a variety of challenges in their daily design work, and the solutions, while not always visible, can provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction with the project. Sometimes there is a sense of aesthetic purpose, as well.

The addition of four new bells to the chimes in the bell tower of historic Crouse College at Syracuse University came with its own set of complications, but it added significantly to the musical repertoire of the student Chimemasters. Fourteen bells can play a broader range of music than the 10 which were currently in the tower. Nine bells were originally purchased by Trustee John Crouse and had been part of the tower since 1889, when the college was constructed.         

The project included restoration of the 10 existing bells as well as the four new bells, which together would add 1,810 pounds to the 127-year-old structure. Installation of an automated bell chimes system and code review of the stair access were also part of the project.

Crouse College is a brick bearing wall building with wood-framed floors and roof. The floor supporting the bells is comprised of large timber beams spanning across the tower. Since substantially more bell weight was to be added to the tower, KHH conducted a structural review which determined the timber floor joists supporting the bell structure would need to be reinforced to safely support the loading configuration.

The engineers recommended a reinforcing design which would install two steel beams perpendicular to the span of the joists. The beams would be shimmed tight under the wood joists and bear on the brick walls by cutting out bearing pockets. To ease installation, the beams would be spliced at mid-span with a bolted splice. Thus the steel would help support both the existing bells and the additional load of the new bells.

The installation was completed prior to the opening of the fall 2016 semester. The bells were made at a foundry in Holland, the same foundry that had recently made most of the new bells for Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

This internal retrofit of an historic structure, an iconic landmark on the Syracuse University campus, illustrates how engineers often work behind the scenes to solve their piece of the puzzle. In this instance, the resolution benefited an entire community with the enhanced carols of the bells.

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