Could Iowa House Hotel be next UI dorm?

BY JOSEPH BELK | MARCH 29, 2010 7:30 AM

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The Iowa House Hotel could become a University of Iowa residence hall in the future.

The UI is in the midst of conducting a feasibility study of converting the hotel, located in the IMU, into a residence hall, University Housing Director Von Stange said.

Stange estimates around 200 students could be housed in the converted hotel. An effort to boost enrollment highlights the need for a new housing facility. The UI’s Task Force on Undergraduate Education and Success outlined plans to enroll 100 more students each year through 2014.

If the plan moves forward, Stange anticipates minor changes to the facility, likely including an assessment of restroom setups, room sizes, and air conditioning accommodations.

UI officials have estimated that building a new dorm for 400 students would cost around $60 million. Stange said officials haven’t yet determined the price tag for converting the Iowa House.

However, the absence of the hotel in the IMU could prove to be a problem.

The university relies on the hotel facilities daily, Iowa House general manager Patricia Kruse said.

Alumni, guest speakers, and high-profile visitors stay there several times each semester, she said.

Visiting writers with the International Writing Program regularly stay at the hotel, too, and program officials are concerned the transformation would affect the program.

“It would be a blow,” International Writing Program Associate Director Hugh Ferrer said. “The great majority [of the writers] stay at the Iowa House.”

The program currently has 30 room reservations with the hotel for the coming fall semester.

Writers stay at the hotel for a little more than 10 weeks at the cost of approximately $3,500 per writer, Ferrer said.

Officials said it’s possible to house the visiting writers elsewhere, but that arrangement isn’t as desirable.

After the floods of 2008 closed the IMU, program officials were forced to temporarily make living arrangements for the visiting writers at rental properties and local bed and breakfasts.

“Housing during the flood cost about the same, but writers were spread across the city,” Ferrer said. “It’s a far superior experience for the visiting writers to be able to stay together in one place, and for the last 10 years, the Iowa House is where we’ve done that.”

The University Lecture Committee often books its guests in the Iowa House.

“It’s always nice to have a person stay in the same venue that he or she is going to speak,” said Alex Metcalf, the head of the committee.

However, officials are also considering other possibilities to add student housing.

“My feeling is that there is still a strong case for an additional residence hall at the University of Iowa,” Regent Robert Downer said, and he thinks the UI is in a strong financial position to construct a new dorm.

“Other than renovations and upgrading, there hasn’t been a lot of money spent on major capital projects in recent years,” he said.

There are other benefits to constructing a new residence hall, Downer said, noting the UI’s plan to place all first-year students into living-learning communities.

However, Stange was reluctant to confirm that University Housing’s financial situation would necessarily allow for a new construction project.

“Anything that we do with any housing construction is paid for, ultimately, by the students,” he said.

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