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Regents to vote on Iowa House

BY EMILY BUSSE | APRIL 23, 2010 7:30 AM

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The state Board of Regents will vote whether to continue with a $9.25 million plan to convert the Iowa House Hotel into a dorm at its monthly meeting next week.

If approved, the Iowa House could cease to function fully as a hotel by this fall and open as a dorm in the fall of 2011.

The official project plans come less than a month after University of Iowa officials announced they were considering the change, which could potentially add 200 dorm rooms, said David Grady, the UI’s dean of students.

“It’s a timely way to get [additional housing] versus new construction,” he said.

With increasing enrollment and residence halls operating at capacity, university officials said they need more rooms.

Regent Robert Downer said the change could be positive by adding more learning communities for students, but he believes it should only be temporary.

“Frankly, I don’t see the reason for not going ahead with a whole new residence hall,” said Downer, noting the UI’s residence system is in better financial standing than those of the other two regent universities.

The hotel is valuable for visitors, Downer said, and it should remain a hotel in the future “unless there’s some compelling reason as to why it is no longer an appropriate use for the structure.”

The conversion, which will be funded by Residence System Improvement Funds and Dormitory Revenue Bonds, will include changing the hotel lobby into a front desk and adding a waiting lounge, mailboxes, housing staff, and support spaces, according to the regents’ agenda.

“The conversion of the Iowa House to residency will add high-quality residence-hall space and contribute to the high-quality educational experience for students,” said UI spokesman Tom Moore.

But there are many groups on campus who aren’t happy with the potential change in housing.

Alex Metcalf, the head of the University Lecture Committee, said it pays for seven or eight nights of stay for guest lecturers a year. Paying for the Sheraton, 210 S. Dubuque St., or hotelVetro, 201 S. Linn St., will cost the group at least an extra $20 a night, he said.

Standard guest rooms at the Iowa House start at $85 a night; rooms at the Sheraton downtown can start at $139 a night.

But the ease of planning will be the group’s biggest loss, Metcalf said.

“It’s really easy to get reservations there because we have an ongoing relationship, so it will be a little more hassle for us,” he said, and there may be time crunches related to parking and transportation.

But other organizations went further, saying they are at a loss, including the UI International Writing Program. Director Christopher Merrill said the program uses the Iowa House for more than 25 writers from around the world each year.

The Iowa House change will be a “disaster,” Merrill wrote in an e-mail, and the program’s funders — including the U.S. State Department and foundations — rely on the Iowa House.

“[They] regard the fact that we have the writers in one place, in the middle of the campus, as crucial to the success of the program,” Merrill said. “I don’t know what we will do.”

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