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Signatures on Orton Hall might be painted over

Some Ohio State students are fondly reminded of the history and tradition surrounding the university when they hear chimes coming from Orton Hall as they cross the Oval.

Ohio Staters, Inc., and Facilities Operations and Development are planning to preserve this history by repainting the walls of the bell tower, but some students see this as demolishing a tradition.

Students involved in some major campus organizations such as class honoraries, Greek organizations and ambassador programs have visited the bell tower to sign their names on the wall. Ohio Staters is the primary student organization that helps facilitate students going up to the tower and manages its upkeep.

Scott Boden, faculty adviser to Ohio Staters and associate director of Residence Life, said Ohio Staters recently ended this practice due to concern on the part of Orton Hall maintenance and on the part of the bell tower key-holder. This led to a partnership with FOD to restore Orton Hall to its original state.

Boden said the signatures used to be constrained to the door of the bell tower but have moved onto the brick walls and the bells.

“It’s become technically what is defacing property and we don’t want that to happen,” he said.

Donna Knisley, assistant coach for the OSU pistol team and retired office associate for the College of Medicine, is the official key-holder and bell-ringer for the chimes in Orton Hall.

Knisley said the door of the bell tower was originally signed in the early 1900s due to the lack of security around buildings on the Oval as well as access through tunnels connecting them.

“It was an unauthorized act to begin with,” Knisley said. “(Students) have never ever asked permission to sign the walls.”

She said the signatures are considered a form of graffiti and should not be tolerated.

“No one goes into other buildings on campus and signs their names on walls just because they’ve been there.” Knisley said.

Knisley began noticing the signatures straying from the door onto the walls in 2009, but Ohio Staters finally obtained the funds to repaint the tower this year.

OSU alumnus Shawn O’Meara, whose signature is in Orton Hall, said he was surprised that the administration isn’t supporting the tradition.

O’Meara graduated last June, but his name still remains on the brick walls of the bell tower.

“It was definitely a meaningful experience,” he said. “You’re surrounded by hundreds if not thousands of names that really care about this university – people that have taken time to give back to Ohio State.”

Josh Ahart, Undergraduate Student Government vice president-elect, shares a similar sentiment and plans to write a resolution in the Senate regarding the repainting Wednesday.

“We have to put something in the works to represent the students who truly care about the issue,” Ahart said.

Boden said he understands the honor that comes with having access to the tower, and he is concerned about losing access if the tradition isn’t modified.

Kayla Francis, a third-year in exercise science and recording secretary for Ohio Staters, said the group is working to develop a way to document the signatures in a way that will not violate university regulations.

One suggestion was to create a guest book. Students will still be able to visit the tower but will now sign a book which will include photographs of old signatures as well.

O’Meara said he understands where the university is coming from, but that signing one’s name on brick has a sense of permanence that paper simply won’t provide.

“It’s not as special of an experience,” he said. “Anyone can throw away a piece of paper, but no one can really take a brick out of the wall and scrub it clean.”

Francis said she understands the sentiment of students as she was able to sign her name on the bricks when she became a new member of Ohio Staters.

While she said she’ll be sad to see the names go, she understands that the bell tower had its own history before students began signing their names on the walls.

“We have to understand that sometimes traditions that we have may not be in line with the university,” Francis said. “We need to be respectful in that way to the original history that did exist.”

Knisley said she doesn’t understand why students consider signing the bricks a special tradition. She said access to the bell tower is not restricted to specific student groups. Visits to the bell tower are open to all students as long as they request permission from the key-holder.

“There is not a tradition of signing the names and I don’t know where people have gotten that idea,” Knisley said. “I know that sometimes traditions happen by accident, but I really feel that we’re defacing the walls in the building.”

Both Boden and Francis said Ohio Staters is open to new suggestions and has “hit the pause button” in order to work with other organizations on this matter.

Lindsay Komlanc, spokeswoman for OSU’s Administration and Planning, said in an email that while discussions between FOD and Ohio Staters transpired, nothing regarding repainting the bell tower is scheduled at this time. Repeated attempts to contact Orton Hall maintenance were met with no response.

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