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Most students at Principia don’t remember when they could look up to a wall and easily check the time. This year’s graduating class is the last that remembers the day that the academic building clocks ticked for the last time, in the spring of 2012.
Prior to the spring of 2012, the clocks of Principia enjoyed an established position in buildings like the School of Nations. The nucleus of the clock system, the Simplex system, was located in the School of Nations, near to what is known today as the 21st Century Classroom. According to facilities director Ed Goewert, “We think [the Simplex system] was original to the building, which was built in around 1959 or the early 1960s.” This clock system, based in the School of Nations, controlled clocks in buildings across campus including the School of Government, the concourse, the library, and Old Watson.
What happened in the spring of 2012 that removed such established parts of Principia campus life? According to Goewert, it was a gradual process. “We were having problems keeping the system going,” he said. “We had an annual maintenance contract with a company that worked on Simplex, and they had a difficult time trying to get parts for them.” The clock system was simply too old and difficult to continue to maintain.
Another significant factor in removing the clocks was a suggestion by the administration that wall clocks were becoming obsolete in the new technological age. According to Goewert, the facilities department approached the administration with alternate suggestions to the Simplex clock system, but the answer they got back was that since many students carried laptops and cellphones, the wall clock system was no longer necessary. Thus, it was decided that there was no real need to replace the existing system.
This assessment by the administration has been echoed by students and teachers alike. When asked whether or not she noticed the absence of clocks in the academic buildings, sophomore Nohemy Johnson said, “I’ve never really taken the time to notice how many clocks there are. I don’t think it would make a difference if there were more or less. People have cellphones, watches, laptops. I don’t think I look at any clocks around campus.”
In answer to the same question, junior Geoff Hibbs said, “I mean, I have my cellphone. Teachers don’t seem to mind if you look at your phone.” Business professor Jim Bilsborrow echoed student sentiment, saying that “It sounds like people keep track on iPhones. I don’t think people look for traditional clocks nowadays.”
Although nobody seems to miss the academic building clocks, the one complaint that people seemed to have with the change in clock visibility was regarding the concourse clock. “Shortly after that,” Goewert said, “OSL came back to us and the director [Dorsie Glen] at that time said to us, ‘I’m hearing several people stating that they’re used to seeing the clock in the concourse.’” So the facilities department looked into options.
Because the concourse is such an open space, operations and maintenance supervisor Dean Kuehnel chose an atomic clock to replace the old Simplex concourse clock. The choice of an atomic clock solved many of the problems that facilities had faced with the Simplex system. “With the Simplex system, the clocks seemed to always be off. So when people were going through academics or concourse or whatever, the time was never right,” Kuehnel said. Unlike the Simplex system, which was tied to the master clock based in the School of Nations, the new atomic clock in the concourse receives its signal from the National Institute for Standards and Technology, a federal government agency headquartered in the DC area.
That new concourse clock, however, is the only clock that facilities decided to replace. It just didn’t make sense to put in another all-campus clock system that would require the same amount of maintenance that the other one had, especially when students were increasingly using cellphones and computers to check the time. Therefore, all other clocks that can be seen around campus are put in by specific departments. The clocks in the dining room and Pub are managed by other departments.