Shambaugh House going green


The walls of Shambaugh House, which for years have contained noted authors from around the world and echoed their well-written words, are going green — very green.

The plan started with a desire to repaint the century-old abode. Now, behind the construction crews and scaffolding, the home of the prestigious International Writing Program is undergoing a major modern update with eco-friendly features.

UI officials said they are working to preserve the historical nature of the building while bringing contemporary advantages to its façade.

Workers will reinstall the old leaded glass behind new insulated windows to maintain the traditional appearance of the house, said Jeff Hayes, UI design project manager.

In addition, he said, the new cement-board siding will preserve the historical look of cedar wood but is easier and cheaper to preserve.

Then there’s the insulation.

The foam is made from soybeans instead of petroleum, said Pat Shey, one of the owners of Sage Companies. The Cedar Rapids company is installing the insulation.

The product is “good for farmers, bad for OPEC,” Shey said.

Such an environmentalist approach to construction has appeared elsewhere on the UI campus.

“We try to be conscious of the environment when feasible,” Hayes said.

The project, which was initially bid at $270,000, began in July and was supposed to end in August, said Christopher Merrill, the IWP director.

The renovation is taking longer than expected, however, partially because work must go slowly to avoid damaging plaster and molding inside, Shey said. Officials expect the work to be completed around the end of October.

Though dust and the noise rebound through the air outside, the home’s creaky floors are expected to welcome the tread of guests to readings and workshops throughout the fall.

Shambaugh, built roughly a century ago and owned by a UI professor of the same moniker, was bequeathed to the university and first housed the university’s Honors Program until 2002, when the writing program moved in.

The program hosts foreign writers, providing them with places to live, write, and present their work to American audiences.

“The Shambaughs were known for hosting visitors from abroad,” Merrill said. “We are proud to continue the tradition by hosting international writers.”

A new group of writers are set to arrive around Aug. 28.

The authors don’t actually live in the Shambaugh House — many stay in the Iowa House Hotel, in the IMU. Still, some said they feel a strong connection to the building.

“The house was an emotional home for all of us during the residency,” said Agnes Lam wrote in an e-mail. The associate professor at the University of Hong Kong was a former resident with the writing program.

Her group was forced to stay in several locations after last summer’s flooding.

Still, she said, “the Shambaugh House was very, very important as a focal point for us.”

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