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University of Tampa plans a soaring bell tower with a message

The giant musical instrument with more than 60 bells will sit at the center of campus, signifying a focus on character and values, the school says.
A rendering of the Sykes Plaza at the University of Tampa, expected to be complete by 2022. It will feature a 105-foot-tall bell tower called an Ars Sonora, which loosely translates to “Art of Sound” in Latin.
A rendering of the Sykes Plaza at the University of Tampa, expected to be complete by 2022. It will feature a 105-foot-tall bell tower called an Ars Sonora, which loosely translates to “Art of Sound” in Latin. [ Courtesy of the University of Tampa ]
Published Aug. 6
Updated Aug. 9

The University of Tampa will soon be home to a 105-foot musical tower of bells at the center of campus, a structure that school officials say will be the first of its kind in the United States.

The tower, called an Ars Sonora, will contain 6 miles of wiring, 147 lights and 61 bronze bells that will sound notes controlled from an electronic keyboard. It also will have four swinging bells, including a 6-foot-tall, 5,000-pound bell etched with the names of philanthropists Susan and John Sykes.

The Sykes family has previously donated toward the creation of the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values on campus as well as UT’s Vaughn Center and the Sykes College of Business. They also have endowed the university’s Center for Ethics.

The tower has been in the works for almost 20 years, the school said.

The Ars Sonora technology, taken from the Latin term for “art of sound,” was created by the Paccard Bell Foundry in 1999. University officials describe the structure as a giant, one-of-a-kind musical instrument that will be used for concerts and other gatherings. A fountain with sound and lights will be built at the tower’s base, part of a larger project to improve the plaza at the center of campus.

The tower “signifies our commitment to looking at the University experience in a holistic manner, as we nurture student development and help to prepare students to live their lives as responsible citizens,” university president Ronald Vaughn and his wife, Renée, said in a statement. “A number of years ago, we at the University became aware of research that indicated colleges and universities were not doing as much as they could to promote character and values as a part of the education experience.”

The finished plaza, they said, would be “a place that will help to nurture the development of the whole person, including character and values.”

Pictured at the Paccard factory in France, a 5,000-pound bell etched with the names of donors Susan and John Sykes will eventually be shipped to the University of Tampa.
Pictured at the Paccard factory in France, a 5,000-pound bell etched with the names of donors Susan and John Sykes will eventually be shipped to the University of Tampa. [ Courtesy of the University of Tampa ]

Donor Susan Sykes said in a statement that the family shares the university’s belief in character education. “That’s why we were very excited to be a part of the building of the chapel,” the statement said, “and now, to be completing this place of inspiration and reflection with the Ars Sonora and plaza.”

The bells were first pre-mounted and tested at Paccard’s workshop in Annecy, France, before being shipped to Chambéry, France, where a steel manufacturer is designing its support structure. After the bells are attached and re-tested, the structure will be disassembled and shipped to UT, where it will be reconstructed with 18 reinforced concrete drilled piers embedded as deep as 80 feet below ground level.

It will be designed to withstand up to a Category 5 hurricane and have six types of protection against lightning.

Construction is expected to start late this year and be complete in 2022.