The Lincoln Academy bell tower, a beloved piece of the town academy’s history, is set to be removed Saturday, Sept. 9 due to structural concerns. School administration has launched the Save the Bell campaign to raise funds to restore the bell tower and the traditional bell ringing that marks athletic success and other campus celebrations.
“Everyone wants to have this back, and we want to get it done,” Head of School Jeff Burroughs said.
For over 150 years, the bell tower has been one of the most recognizable icons of the LA campus. While the bell was originally rung at the beginning of each school day and for occasions such as graduation and baccalaureate, it gradually became tradition for athletes to ring the bell in celebration of championship victories.
In the fall 2022 edition of Aerie, Lincoln Academy’s annual alumni magazine, captains of teams from the 1960s and 1970s recalled making ascents from the second floor fire escape to the roof in order to ring the bell. The tradition ebbed by the early 1980s, but came back in force in fall 1987 after the field hockey and boys soccer teams won state championships.
In 1996, the school’s alumni council, headed up by Paula Roberts, raised funds to repair the bell and rebuild the structural supports around it, a task completed by George Cole, of Newcastle. Since the work was completed, athletes and teams have made the trek up to the attic to ring the bell.
This practice continued during the fall sports season last year, when the girls and boys cross country teams and the boys soccer team rang the bell to commemorate respective KVAC championship wins. The three teams ended up being the last to do so. Before the winter sports season concluded, the bell tower was deemed unsafe.
While there was no immediate danger to people, according to Jenny Mayher, the school’s communication director, the continued ringing of the bell and foot traffic to the attic could have caused damage to the historic bell and belfry.
“The issue is mostly about the bell itself not being in a position where we can ring it anymore because it’s not structurally supported in the way it needs to be,” Burroughs said.
The eventual repairs of the bell and the surrounding structural components is something the Lincoln Academy Board of Trustees and its building and grounds committee have been investigating for over a year, according to Heather D’Ippolito, the school’s director of community engagement and development.
At the board’s July meeting, the committee, led by Trustee Bob Manning, put forth the recommendation to move forward with the project, Burroughs said. The board voted in favor, and administration began reaching out to community connections for advice. One of those connections was Hagar Enterprises Inc. co-owner Seth Hagar, an alum and parent of a current student. Hagar helped the school get in touch with someone with a crane, a crucial component of the three-phase project.
“It had been in the works for us to move quickly this fall, but that … accelerated things,” Burroughs said.
The first phase of the project consists of removing the belfry and bell. Due to the amount of area that needs to be cordoned off for the crane to safely complete the removal, the work must completed while students are not on campus, Burroughs said.
Once removed, the belfry will be evaluated and the restoration and/or repair work will be put out to bid. The bell will be transported to The Verdin Co. in Cincinnati, Ohio, where it was originally cast, for repairs.
The second phase of the project will deal with the structural issues of the tower itself, the extent of which may not be fully known. Of the four posts that run from the tower to the school’s basement, two are no longer touching supports, Burroughs said.
An engineering study will show where the posts need to go to support the tower, as well as whether any of the support beams in the building need to be replaced in order to accommodate those locations.
“That’s the part with possibly the longest lead time, because they need to get inside the building to know what needs to be done,” Burroughs said. “We really won’t know until the structural analysis is complete what internal work is needed to get done … before the next step.”
The third and final phase will be to replace the belfry and return the bell to their respective locations.
The estimated cost of the first phase is $100,000, which the school has received pledges and commitments for already, Burroughs said. However, due to possible issues that may be discovered in the second phase, there currently is not an estimate on the project’s total price.
“Until we get the belfry on the ground and the engineers on site … to do a thorough assessment, we really can’t put a total cost on it,” Mayher said.
While the full price of the undertaking isn’t finalized, the funding method is. The entirety of the project will be completed with private funds, Burroughs said.
“We are first and foremost a school with a mission, and we’re also trying to preserve a historic piece of the building that has been a part of the community,” D’Ippolito said. “This is not a project coming out of the operating budget.”
“This is a project to save a historic part of the school,” Mayher added. “We feel a responsibility to be stewards of this community symbol.”
As word as gotten out about the project, the LA community has responded in kind. Members of the class of 1973 helped to officially launch the Save the Bell campaign by giving a donation while commemorating their 50-year reunion this summer, and other alumni have similar plans in the works, Burroughs said.
In addition to restoring the bell tower, the campaign has an archival component, as a portion of funds raised will be used to preserve historic photos, documents, and more. Members of the community are also asked to share memories and photos of the bell tower.
While the project is underway, administrators plan to find a temporary spiritual successor to the bell ringing tradition.
“It’s an important tradition, and there’s been a wonderful resurgence of athletics at Lincoln,” Burroughs said. “We’re not going to stop winning championships, so we need to figure out a way to make sure we can ring the bell.”
For more information about the Save the Bell campaign, go to lincolnacademy.org/support/save-the-la-bell.