Steve Giannascoli

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Steve Giannascoli, UT electric shop crew leader, remembers the first time he lit the Tower orange.

“I was in charge of flipping the switch,” Giannascoli said. “My boss gave me the cue right before the fireworks started, and that was memorable because I was very nervous. I worried what if it didn’t come on.”

Giannascoli, one of the people responsible for lighting the Tower after receiving notice of significant achievements, lit the Tower for the UT commencement speech four years ago.

Giannascoli said it simply takes a flip of the switch to turn on Tower lights after the Office of the President requests the occasion to recognize an accomplishment. He said the biggest Tower-lighting events of the year are UT Commencement and Gone to Texas. 

Neil Crump, plant management and construction services manager, runs the Tower-lighting team. He said preparing for large-scale events takes a significant amount of time. To get ready, he and his team coordinate count-offs and the raising and lowering Tower-window shades to form numerals. Crump said the Tower provides a good medium for showcasing the University’s achievements.

“It’s architecturally significant, and it symbolizes the University of Texas,” Crump said. “It’s their pride and joy.”

Giannascoli said lighting the Tower makes up a very small but significant portion of his job.

“Not everybody gets to light the Tower,” Giannascoli said. “My kids even think it’s cool. They tell the other kids that their dad lights the Tower. That’s probably the coolest part of my job.”

Giannascoli said the power used to light the Tower goes to monitors, projectors, equipment and lighting across campus when the orange lights aren’t shining. 

Mechanical engineering junior Jeremy Priest is the creator of the website whyisthetowerorange.com. Priest said in an email that he started the website after spending a frustrating amount of time trying to find out why the Tower was orange one day. He researches daily to find out why the Tower is lit, and then he updates his website. 

“Tower lightings are sometimes a little on the secretive side,” Priest said. “I manually edit the message each day that the Tower is lit, after finding the reason. Typically it’s found on the UT Know news website, the TexasSports news site, or a few others. At times I take to Twitter if I exhaust my usual resources.”

Priest said he launched the website to make it more convenient for students to find out UT achievements and what is happening on campus.

“The most rewarding thing that comes from my website is seeing the groups, whether athletic or academic, be recognized fully for their achievement,” Priest said. “With a view of my website, the entire student body can know that our very own Quidditch team won the World Cup, or that the Satellite Design Lab won 1st at a national competition.”

Priest said the tradition of lighting the Tower reinforces school pride and awareness. 

“It is a huge honor,” Priest said. “The students around campus knowing exactly why and for whom it is lit contributes to the prestige of that honor.”

The Tower is lit after a WomenÂ’s Volleyball win Friday night over Minnesota.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

After hours of work and preparation, there is some satisfaction for facilities staff members when the UT Tower lights up burnt orange or when the windows spell out a class’ number. But there is also a sense of relief.

“It’s the satisfaction and relief all at once, because there is a lot of work that goes into making whatever it is that we’re doing,” construction services manager Neil Crump said.

The Tower, which turned 75 earlier this year, has six different light configurations listed online which are used for a variety of events, ranging from Gone to Texas to commencement ceremonies. The University spends about $3,000 in light maintenance and labor for the Tower and more than $10,000 on electricity every year.

A total of 244 lamps light up the Tower. There is a control box in the clock room for the lights on the Tower’s crown, the lights above the Tower’s clock and the lights on the Tower’s observation deck. There is another control box in what Crump calls a tiny closet on the eighth floor for the 68 lights on the main 10th-level shaft.

Electrician Steve Giannascoli said while it is only a flip of a switch to change the Tower’s light settings, there is some stress on the job.

“When you have to light it on cue there is stress, because you have to switch it at the right moment,” Giannascoli said.

While flipping a switch is easy, Crump said most preparation time is put into making the windows show a number. Crump said three workers spend up to three hours together making sure the right windows are lit up and the right windows have their blinds closed. Before blinds were installed, it used to take even longer because paper would have to be taped onto windows.

In scenarios when the Tower has to be lit up exactly at the right moment, someone is manually at the control box waiting for the call. Giannascoli turned the Tower orange while UT’s “Horns Up” commercial was being filmed. Someone in the helicopter filming the campus told him exactly when to flip the switch.

But in other instances, the lighting can be done remotely. For example, when the Longhorns win a football game, Crump said someone will make a phone call and dial in a secret code to turn the Tower’s top orange.

“It is top-secret, but it’s not too complicated,” Crump said. “You can do the whole operation in less than two minutes.”

Giannascoli said he only knows four people who are aware of the digits that light up the Tower.

The President’s office is the sole entity on campus that controls when and under what conditions the Tower is lit, but Crump said he will still get strange phone calls requesting special tower configurations.

“It is kind of comical. We will have people call in and say they need to turn the Tower orange for 30 minutes because they’re going to propose in the South Mall,” Crump said. “We get calls asking us to turn the Tower green for Saint Patrick’s Day. The answer is no.”

The Tower will also go dark in memoriam. For example, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the Tower was darkened for two days. The Tower was also darkened in 1999 after the Aggie Bonfire accident, which resulted in the deaths of 12 A&M students. Giannascoli said the Tower also gets turned off for a few hours on Earth Day.

The University will turn the Tower orange Friday to celebrate UT’s birthday.

Printed on Thursday, September 13th, 2012 as: Tower lit up with effort