Labs not yet back to pre-flood normal


Despite the appearance of having returned to normal, the futuristic structure that stands on the east bank of the Iowa River known as the Iowa Advanced Technology Labs is still in the process of recovering from last summer’s flood.

Current cost estimates for building recovery hover around $5 million, while estimates for damage to equipment are even higher, $34 million, according to a report submitted to the state Board of Regents in March. A combination of Federal Emergency Management Agency funds and UI insurance will cover the cost, but officials are unsure of when the building would return to normal.

The facility is a stark contrast to its more collegiate neighbor, the IMU. Through wide windows on the first floor are beautiful vistas of the river that overtook it last summer. A design by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, the edifice was completed in 1992.

The original building design itself incorporated no flood protection other than ensuring the first floor was 1 foot above the 100-year flood level at the time it was built, UI spokesman Tom Moore said.

However, because of its proximity to the river, the water level during the 2008 floods surpassed that, inundating the basement and creating 21 inches of standing water on the main floor. Although the structural integrity of the building remained intact, the costs of replacing all the wall and floor finishes, as well as the entire mechanical and electrical systems — which were underwater — were high.

Because the building is home to several scientific research centers, the building houses a vast amount of large, expensive equipment, not all of which could be removed before the building had to be evacuated.

“Basically, things that were ‘carryable,’ we carried out,” said Chris Coretsopoulos, a researcher in the Optical Science and Technology Center. “Some [of the equipment] weighs a ton, and we didn’t have time to get the stuff out because we didn’t have as much time as we thought we would. We thought we had till Saturday [June 14, 2008], but we had to be out by Friday [June 13, 2008] morning because the water was rising.”

Much of the equipment was built in place and could not be moved ahead of the floodwaters, Moore said.

“There was considerable damage to the equipment and recovery of that equipment, and new methods of emergency-removal procedures are in progress,” he said. “There are new evacuation plans and pathways that have been incorporated for use of the building in the interim until we complete the full and permanent recovery and mitigation work with FEMA.”

While some researchers started moving back in as soon as August 2008 to assess the damage, not all of equipment has been replaced yet, nor has all the equipment that was relocated been returned to the building.

“Things are not really back to normal yet,” said chemistry Professor Mark Arnold, who works in the building. “Until mitigation occurs and we are sure the equipment is protected in the event of another flood, we cannot move everything back in.”

The UI is still working on building recovery and mitigation plans to submit to FEMA and the Iowa Department of Homeland Security so that the scientific activity of the labs that has been on pause can return to its pre-flood state.

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