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Clothier construction tempts students to climb scaffolding

6 mins read

Concealed in scaffolding and surrounded by fences blocking its entrance, Clothier Tower has recently appeared more like an eyesore than an iconic piece of the College’s architectural history. As the site of the college bookstore, Essie Mae’s, the Intercultural Center, and the Student Budget Office, the tower has for many years been an essential hub of campus life. Since August, however, the College has been on a mission to completely refurbish the tower and restore it to its original grandeur that dates back to the 1920s.

According to Ralph P. Thayer, director of maintenance at the college, the project started last spring when maintenance noticed “severe degradation,” believed to be caused by water damage, in the stone at the base of the tower. Given the historic status of Clothier Tower as one of the first structures erected on campus, the college immediately began plans for restoration, allocating a $1.1 million budget for the project. Thayer and his team of associates solicited bids from multiple construction companies last spring and chose Dan LePore and Sons for their extensive experience restoring historical buildings.

“Technically, it’s maintenance repair rather than construction,” Thayer said, who added that the bulk of the work being done on the tower is stone repointing — the meticulous process of replacing aged mortar between stones so that the structure is resistant to water. The surface of each of stone is also being scrubbed clean of algae and mold, while new stones are being put in place of damaged ones. According to Thayer, this aspect of the restoration has gone on without complication.

Capitalizing on the opportunity for refurbishment in the tower, the College has also begun a process of restoring the bell and timing mechanism. According to Aya Ibrahim ’15, the student outreach coordinator for Student Council, until the 1990s, the bell in Clothier Tower used to ring at hourly intervals throughout the day. Due to disrepair, however, the bell has only rung on Garnet weekend and Ride the Tide in recent years. “The college wants to fix the mechanism so that the bell can ring regularly again,” Ibrahim said.

This task has proved to be harder than anticipated, however, because the company that originally built the mechanism built only two others like it in the world. Ibrahim, who spoke to Bill Maguire, maintenance manager at the College, added that only recently have the missing parts for the bell arrived after having been shipped from a chapel in England.

Replacing the timing mechanism has not been the only area of concern for the college; the dangers of the scaffolding have also troubled administrators.

“Students that have been climbing the scaffolding are concerning for safety reasons” said Ibrahim who spoke to Public Safety Director, Michael Hill at a Swarthmore Weekly Activities Table Talk for which she was the Student Council liaison. Ibrahim noted that while Hill was aware of the potential for students to damage the new stones while climbing, his primary concern was student safety.

“Its cold and scary, and no one in their right mind should try it,” said an anonymous student who ascended the tower at night. With limited light, Public Safety worries that students pose a higher risk to themselves than they are aware of when they climb the tower, and inclement weather only heightens the risk for a slip or fall. Still, many students have climbed the tower without fear.

“Its so cool!” said another anonymous climber. “You can go even higher than they let you go during senior week!”

Though most students appear to have accessed the tower on random weeknights, Ibrahim noted that Public Safety was most concerned with patrolling the tower during weekends. The tower’s close proximity to Paces has concerned Public Safety officers who worry that students will pose a greater risk to themselves if they climb while inebriated.

Public Safety has increased patrols around the tower and installed locks that limit access to the scaffolding. Nevertheless, many students have still managed to make it to the top.

Ibrahim cautioned against climbing the tower, warning that when students were caught climbing the scaffolding that was on Parish last fall, they had to go through the College Judiciary Committee. Though there have been no reports of any punishment for students who were caught climbing the scaffolding on Clothier Tower, Public Safety’s increased surveillance of the structure could change this policy.

The entire refurbishment should be completed by the end of winter break, and the scaffolding should be down by Thanksgiving. In the meantime, Public Safety hopes that the colder weather will make the climb to the top of Clothier Tower a more daunting task.

“Most of all, Mike Hill and the rest of Public Safety want to encourage students not to put themselves at risk,” Ibrahim said.

The Phoenix