Thompson Chapel adds security

Grating covers the staircase that leads from the bell-ringing console to the higher floors of the tower.
Grating covers the staircase that leads from the bell-ringing console to the higher floors of the tower.

As of this week, Thompson Memorial Chapel now has three new alarms and a barrier wall of grating to prevent unauthorized persons from entering the bell tower. According to Jean Thorndike, director of Campus Safety and Security, the new security measures are in response to two or three break-ins over the last couple of months.

Before this week, tower-access required passage through three locked doors – one into the room where the bell-playing occurs, one at the top of a staircase that leads further up into the tower and one trapdoor that gives access to the open-air portion of the tower.

All three doors now have an alarm system, which will be fully activated with motion sensor technology either today or tomorrow. The grating covers the staircase that leads from the bell-ringing console to the higher floors of the tower.
The staircase that leads up to those higher levels now sports one of the three alarms, and the grating wall consists of a wooden framework with metal netting to prevent students from avoiding the alarm by jumping onto that staircase.
Rick Spalding, chaplain to the College, discussed the logic behind the new measures. “The security systems we install are not intended as a challenge to be circumvented but as an indication that access is restricted for good reasons,” Spalding said.

In addition to the vandalism of jimmied doors and broken locks, Spalding cited the safety threats of the tower’s height and the steepness of the steps leading up to it as reasons to reinforce the tower’s security.

He also added that as instruments, the bells are a valuable asset to the College, and that access to the console provides the opportunity for trespassers to damage the bells. The open-air space with the bells themselves lies three floors above the bell-ringing console.

According to Spalding, the only students with access to the room beyond the first alarmed door are the bell-ringers. Neither the bell-ringers nor Spalding, however, have access beyond the bell-ringing console.

The Chaplain’s Office, Security and Facilities jointly decided to add the alarms and grating. Spalding first noted the Thompson break-ins in the daily Security report, and then began communicating with Security and Facilities because the Chaplain’s Office is responsible for the Chapel’s use.

Spalding noted that Security has been aware of breaches of the tower in the past, but that it was the multiple incidents within a shorter span of time that prompted action. Thorndike also stressed that the alarm systems were not intended as a punishment for students, but a precautionary measure. “It’s proactive to say, ‘This is a vulnerable spot,’” Thorndike said.

Systems Coordinator Tina van Luling added that most buildings have intrusion alarms, and that the campus as a whole has over 100 alarm systems.

Spalding was originally responsible nine years ago for instituting the daily open access hours to the Chapel sanctuary, in an effort to make the space available for students’ mental and spiritual needs. The new safety measures will not affect those open hours and are only meant to obstruct tower access.

Spalding said that if severe break-ins continue, the next security measure might consist of disallowing students from ringing the bells in the console entirely. However, he remained confident that Facilities and Security will not have to reach that level.

“I think that the vast majority of students here respect the College’s measures to keep them safe,” Spalding said.