After almost a hundred years of service, the Louisiana State University (LSU) Memorial Tower in Baton Rouge was ready for restoration, but asbestos stopped the clock tower project when the potentially deadly mineral was found in the interior.
The tower was built in the early 1920s in memory of 1,447 Louisiana soldiers who died in World War I. The interior of the tower houses a military museum.
The Memorial Tower clock holds a special place in the heart of students and the community for its chimes. The bells ring every quarter hour until 10 pm and at noon they ring the tune of the university’s alma mater song. On Valentine’s Day, tradition states that receiving a kiss under the tower at the ringing of the chimes at midnight – the only night they ring past 10 pm – confirms a student is now an “official” LSU student.
The 175’ tall building was designed in the Italian Renaissance style and is a landmark in the city.
From its history, it is evident the tower is an important part of Louisiana’s past – from its construction in 1923, to today, and into the future. The restoration will ensure the building and its traditions carry on for future generations of students.
Finding asbestos was not completely unexpected, as many buildings in the United States were built using the mineral from the 1920s until the late 1970s. Until renovations began, the asbestos was undisturbed and therefore not a danger. But once substances containing asbestos are handled, fibers can become airborne and inhaled by workers or others who are in the affected area.
When found in the tower, work on the interior was stopped and tests are currently underway. Most other buildings on the LSU campus were also constructed during this time period, meaning that as they are restored, they may also need testing and possibly abatement.
Because the asbestos was discovered at the beginning of the restoration, the university states there is no threat to students or faculty members. As a precaution, remodeling or renovations performed on any commercial buildings, schools, or residences during the time period asbestos was commonly used in construction, may require testing on possible asbestos-laden products before initiating a project.
Exposure to asbestos is a known cause of cancers, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. At this time, mesothelioma remains a fatal disease. Mesothelioma can go undetected for decades – even 50 years – which makes it a silent killer. Early detection is critical.
Asbestos stopped the clock, but it will chime again
Exterior renovations continue and the entire $6.8 million project should be completed by the 2020 Fall semester. Baton Rouge, especially LSU students and alumni, look forward to enjoying their celebrated clock tower once again.
Photo by: Kkmurray – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2666826