UI pays to maintain unused flood buildings


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The scene appeared normal.

Students carrying various musical instruments milled around the north portion of the former University of Iowa Museum of Art on March 22. The muted sounds of flute music wafted from a rehearsal room, later to be replaced by the rhythmic beats of bongo drums.

But the north section of the building, ravaged by the floods of 2008, is a rare specimen — one of the few severely damaged buildings to have been renovated and put back to use.

The rest of the flood-damaged Arts Campus remains, for the most part, unused, and it is costing the university millions.

By the end of next year, the UI could spend as much as $5 million to maintain three unused facilities — the Art Building, part of the Museum of Art, and the Hancher/Voxman/Clapp complex. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse around 90 percent of the costs.

“It’s a minimal level of maintenance, and it’s to keep problems from occurring,” said Don Guckert, the UI associate vice president for Facilities Management.

The university is obligated to take care of the buildings because they are still its property, said Dan Heater, the director of the building and landscape services for Facilities Management.

Though the university received preliminary approval to replace certain buildings, FEMA requires maintenance, primarily in the form of temperature control, until final approval is gained, Guckert said. That process is still ongoing, and officials are unsure when that approval will come for each building.

The UI contracts an outside company, Europe-based Munters, to maintain humidity and temperature in the vacant buildings.

The contract with Munters from July 2008 to January 2010 was roughly $2.9 million. For April 2010 to March 2011, estimates for upkeep are around $1.2 million, said Ann Rosenthal, an associate director of building and landscape services for UI Facilities Management.

In addition to the contract with Munters, the UI also has a contract with the company Ferrellgas to provide propane gas for winter heating needs. During the winter of 2008-2009, that expense totaled $540,000; this past winter, the expense will be approximately $490,000, Rosenthal wrote in an e-mail.

Facilities Management staff members are providing additional maintenance by inspecting the buildings on a regular basis to ensure there are no problems, such as roof leaks and pest infiltration, Rosenthal said.

Heater said these inspections are also done to ensure the buildings’ humidity and temparature remain at appropriate levels.

These inspections are routine and don’t require any additional expenses. They are paid for by the UI General Education Fund.

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