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Time for a clock tower makeover in Independence

Updated: 2013-07-12T03:29:10Z

By BRIAN BURNES

The Kansas City Star

No more excuses on Independence Square.

The tired old clock tower of the Jackson County Truman Courthouse, which sometimes offered four different times on its four different faces and so became a great friend to those running late, is being renovated.

It’s a final piece of the historic building’s makeover, scheduled to be complete in September.

“The courthouse is the iconic structure for Independence Square, and the clock tower is its most public component,” Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders said Thursday. “So for us it was an immense priority making sure the clock tower would fully work.”

Universal Construction Co. of Lenexa, the project’s main contractor, has been coordinating the clock tower renovation, which required its own synchronization.

Last month workers erected elaborate scaffolding around the tower. From there workers for several subcontractors have been power-washing its copper dome and replacing damaged trim and balustrades around its cupola.

Finally, Americlock, of St. Louis County, has been replacing four separate clock mechanisms with one, ensuring that the same time will be displayed on all four clock faces.

It also will be preparing 12 gold-leaf Roman numerals for each of the four faces, priming and painting 48 small-minute markers for each, doing the same for larger five-minute markers, and installing hour and minute hands.

“Everybody in Independence will be able to see the tower,” said Chris Martin, project manager with Piper-Wind Architects, which is overseeing interior renovations. “It will represent the culmination of all of the work at the courthouse for the past 10 years.”

The building’s renovation began that long ago, with exterior tuckpointing as well as new windows and a roof. In 2009 workers removed surrounding retaining walls that inadvertently had routed water to the foundation, endangering it.

The building’s current interior renovation is the makeover’s third phase, with the clock tower renovation its most visible piece.

Some historic elements are being retained, such as the bell itself, which Martin thinks dates to the 1930s and now will be rung by a new striking mechanism.

The bell hasn’t been rung consistently since the 1980s, Sanders said. But now it will be part of Independence Square routine, striking twice at 2 p.m., three times at 3 p.m. and so on. Just how late it will ring will be discussed with area residents and merchants, Sanders said.

The bell will ring again formally on Sept. 7. That will be 80 years to the day that then-Jackson County Presiding Judge Harry Truman, who supervised a 1933 courthouse renovation, led those dedication ceremonies.

Timing is important to Sanders, who has scheduled this September’s dedication to begin at 2 p.m., 80 years to the minute that the 1933 program began.

“The bell will chime to begin the ceremony,” Sanders said.

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.

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