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Tower clock to tick again

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By Chris Sardelli

A piece of Lancaster history will find a new home.

The rebuilding of the Lancaster Plant clock tower, a project that has been in the works for more than four years, will take place at the site of the new three-story Founders Federal Credit Union Corporate Center. The headquarters will be located on a 30-acre parcel of land at Gillsbrook and Plantation roads.

Founders plans to complete the first phase of the headquarters' construction within the next few months.

This phase includes the construction of the clock tower of the former Springs Global plant on land across from where the main building will be built. Plans for the building have been in development for over a year.

Lancaster-based contractor Perception Builders will reconstruct the tower.

Owner Chad Catledge said the 40-foot tower will incorporate the original clock mechanism and 4,000 of the original tower's bricks. Those items were given to the city by Springs Global after it closed the historic Lancaster Plant in September 2003.

The Lancaster Plant was Springs' first plant in Lancaster. At one time, it was billed as "the world's largest cotton mill."

Catledge said the clock tower will also use the original clock face, but will use a new electronic clock system.

"It's Founders' desire to have the clock tower going as soon as possible," Catledge said. "We changed the design a little bit to tie it to the Founders project and make it closer to the original clock tower."

Besides incorporating the tower, Founders also intends to "weave" threads of steel throughout the architecture of the new corporate center as a way to symbolize the old Springs mill.

Catledge said the tower project may cost around $300,000. Founders is paying the full bill.

Catledge expects construction on the tower to be complete by early 2009.

"It's a great site for it and you will be able to see it from the (S.C. 9) bypass," Catledge said.

Lancaster Mayor Joe Shaw said the city looked at several locations to build the tower, including different sites on South Main Street and Elm Street.

Then Founders President Bruce Brumfield approached the city about placing the tower at its new headquarters.

With Founders agreeing to cover construction costs, Shaw said it was a great deal. Shaw said the clock should look exactly as it did when it was built 80 years ago.

"I have no doubt in my mind it will look good," Shaw said. "It was a unanimous decision to put it at Founders, because it's in the family."

City Administrator Helen Sowell likes the way the Founders project will spotlight Lancaster history.

"I think it will be a wonderful draw," Sowell said. "I think its going to give us a great footprint for our community."

Jim Williams is also excited about the clock tower's return.

Williams, a local craftsman and member of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, restored the clock for the city free of charge.

"I think it's wonderful," Williams said.

Williams volunteered to restore the clock and started work in 2004. He spent more than 600 hours reassembling, painting and restoring the clock's brass gears, and almost 400 hours conducting research on the mechanism and locating parts.

Williams also recreated pieces that were missing, including the pendulum and suspension parts, which he made from walnut and brass.

He isn't involved in the tower's construction, but said he hopes to meet Catledge and learn more about the project.

"This is the most exciting volunteer project I've ever worked on," Williams said. "I love clocks and watches and to get to work on a great clock like this is super."

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416