Renovations underway at Harkness Tower

Harkness Tower, Yale’s most iconic landmark, will spend the year shrouded behind a mask of tarp and steel as it is being renovated.

The construction project is scheduled to finish in June, but the contractor supervising the project hopes to have the tower ready in time for Commencement in May. Until then, the Harkness bells will remain silent.

The renovation includes repairing and replacing stones and bricks, restoring the masonry, and replacing some windows. There will also be improvements to Branford College’s moat at the base of the 92-year-old, 216-foot tower.

University Planner Linda Cruickshank said she did not know how much the construction will cost. Payne Whitney Gymnasium is currently undergoing similar external repairs, costing $50 million to $70 million over six to 10 years.

The construction area extends on High Street from Library Walk to the front door of the Branford Master’s House, whose occupant for 14 years, Steven Smith, said that though he knew the construction was coming, he didn’t know how intrusive it would be.

“It’s annoying, but people will live with it,” Smith said of the obfuscation of Yale’s signature spire.

The Guild of Carillonneurs, the student group charged with ringing the tower’s 54 bells twice a day, will be unable to perform until May 2010 at the earliest. The 43-ton instrument was wrapped up for storage Monday.

“I am sad for the incoming freshmen,” said carillonneur Vera Wünsche ’12. “We have a beautiful carillon and Yale tradition, but the freshmen will miss out.”

A phone call to the architect supervising the restoration, Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, was not returned.

The tower, which was finished in 1921 and famously stained with acid to make it look older, was reinforced with steel in 1966. Contrary to the lore popularized by some campus tour guides, it was never the nation’s tallest masonry structure; the 555-foot Washington Monument was completed in 1884.

Harkness Tower was last renovated with Branford College in 1999.

Sheetala Balasubramanian and Lucy Cobbs, participants in the 2009 Yale Daily News Summer Journalism Program, contributed reporting.

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