Anthony Corrales/Sun Staff Photographer

McGraw Tower

September 24, 2023

Clocktower Closed to Visitors Until November 2024

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Generations of Cornellians have enjoyed the sound of the University’s iconic clocktower at the heart of campus, with chimes to signal the passing of each 15-minute interval and daily concerts by chimesmasters through the Cornell Chimes program. But since July 3, major renovations have silenced the tower during the school day and closed it off to visitors, with a scheduled end date of November 2024.

“We are excited that the construction project will help ensure that future generations can enjoy music from the Cornell Chimes,” said Head Chimesmaster Elisabeth Wang ’24 in a statement to The Sun. “Although this does mean fewer concerts this year, the tower requires periodic maintenance and has not seen renovations on this scale since 1998.”

According to Wang, the construction primarily involves replacing the roof and performing maintenance work on the exterior of the tower. Inside the clocktower, which is now closed to visitors, the sixth floor museum recently underwent renovations to upgrade the lighting system and repaint the walls.

Typically, Cornell Chimes plays three concerts a day, seven days a week. Working around construction hours, the group now performs only one, longer concert on weekday evenings —  though they still perform three concerts on weekends. The automated hour bells have also been turned off from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays to not interfere with construction.

“Since the chimes are very loud, concerts could be a disruption and distraction to construction efforts, and it would not be safe for the workers,” Wang said. “Concerts can still occur in the evenings and on the weekends when construction activity is not actively occurring.”

In prior years, visitors were encouraged to climb the 161 steps inside the tower to watch the chimesmasters at work during scheduled concerts. But this year, the construction has also halted this tradition.

“We are unable to have visitors due to the construction,” Wang wrote. “Chimesmasters need to be able to focus on playing the music, which makes it difficult to ensure that visitors are following the guidelines to protect their safety.”

Some students told The Sun the lack of consistent chimes and visitor policy has paused a Cornell tradition they came to enjoy.

“I applied early decision, and for me, the clock tower was a symbol of something that made me hopeful and excited,” said Ashley Berrezueta ’25. “I don’t think I represent the large majority in some ways, but for me, I do love the clocktower.” 

Construction has been ongoing on McGraw Tower for several weeks, as seen on Sept. 13. (Anthony Corrales/Sun Staff Photographer)

Some seniors, who will not see the clocktower back in full swing during their time at Cornell and started at the University when the tower was closed to visitors due to the pandemic, expressed disappointment for the loss of the tradition. Jahan Okata Harrison ’24 said the chimes helped build school spirit, and Theodore Bloch ’24 said they represented a meaningful study break and uplifting part of the day whenever he studied in the nearby libraries.

“I’ve heard a lot of unhappiness about that from my senior peers as they were hoping to take graduation photos [with the clocktower], photos with their family. I know some people’s families aren’t often able to visit, and so being able to visit campus when they graduate is a big thing for them,” Okata Harrison said. “To see it under construction and perhaps a little dingy probably isn’t optimal.” 

Other students, like Adrian White ’25, commented that the construction is inconvenient for more practical reasons. Due to the active construction zone, the pathway connecting Ho Plaza and the Arts Quad is closed off, meaning students must walk around Sage Chapel to get to the Plaza and Collegetown.

“When I have to get somewhere important, then it is a little annoying,” White said.

In a recent Slope Day Programming Board survey sent to the student body, one question asked students whether they would support moving Slope Fest — a festival with free food, drinks, carnival games, prizes and music during Slope Day — from Ho Plaza to the Arts Quad due to the construction. No decision on this matter has been announced.

Construction has forced students to find alternative routes between the Arts Quad and Ho Plaza. (Anthony Corrales/Sun Staff Photographer)

Wang noted that Cornell Chimes is finding ways to connect with the Cornell community despite the lack of visitors and reduced concert schedule. She said they have an upcoming sunset concert for Homecoming on Saturday, Sept. 30. 

“Our main goal is to continue to deliver high-quality concerts while maintaining safety as a top priority,” Wang said.

Nancy Lin ’27 contributed reporting.

McGraw Tower’s 161 steps have been marked off and replaced by scaffold stairs as construction workers repair the clocktower. (Anthony Corrales/Sun Staff Photographer)