It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1965 opening of Ithaca College’s Towers, the twin residence halls that loom over the hilltop campus, but one that’s barely noticed by the students who’ve lived there, for a year or so each, for nearly fifty years. As each calendar year turns to the next, IC’s towers shine the year’s numbers on the town below, and change at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
“Petrus Van de Velde, Assistant Superintendent, was the creator of the idea, and the first to implement it,” says Tim Shutts, Facilities Services Supervisor at Ithaca College and the tradition’s current steward. He’s been involved in thirteen of the sixteen New Year’s Eve change-overs since he started working at IC in 1997.
Some residents we’ve talked to have assumed, as I have, that the numerals were lit with existing room lighting, and changed at midnight automatically. The video reveals, though, that the tradition requires several volunteers — and isn’t automated in the least.
Each room that’s part of the lit numbers gets a 150-watt light bulb in a special fixture. “We used to use 300 watt light bulbs, but found that the 150 watt bulbs are almost as bright, and cost half as much to operate,” says Tim. The College has considered the cost-saving measure of switching to newer bulbs, but, “Unfortunately, CFLs take too long to reach full brightness, so there would be a long delay and we wouldn’t get the immediate visual change that we desire. We have thought about using LEDs, and have looked into it, but, unfortunately, they are cost prohibitive at this time.”
The video released this week was the project of Rob Engelsman, an IC alum who works for the Office of Marketing Communications at Ithaca College. “I am still curious about a lot of what this campus has to offer,” says Rob, “and am fortunate in my position here that I can pursue answering those questions and telling those stories.”
In addition to the video camera he used to interview Tim Shutts and catch the behind-the-scenes efforts on New Year’s Eve, Rob placed a GoPro Hero 2 remote camera in a snowy spot near the College’s fitness center to capture footage of the Towers and their lights.
Rob says most students hear of the tradition eventually, since the College’s social media team posts photos. Those living in the Towers whose rooms might be used get an e-mail from the Office of Residential Life right before winter break. “The e-mail informs them of the tradition and lets them know that someone may enter to place a light during break, so that they shouldn’t be surprised if a small thing in their room was moved a little to make room for the bulb.”
“It’s cool to see students posting in social media about how proud they are to see their room lit,” Rob adds. “Even some alumni remember what room they were in and mention how much they enjoyed passively participating in the tradition.”
As for Mr. Engelsman, this was his first New Year’s Eve in Ithaca, and since he was in the bottom of the West Tower filming the countdown, he still hasn’t seen the numbers change firsthand. At least he can watch his video.
Editor’s note: Ithaca College tells us their video “isn’t available for public consumption anymore,” and suggested we share this one in its place. Thanks to Jim Laux for allowing us to use it.