UI sign upsets some at Hillel House

BY MAX FREUND | OCTOBER 13, 2010 7:20 AM

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The Hillel House — a private center for Jewish students — stands at the intersection of Market and Dubuque Streets with gold painted metal letters spelling out “Hillel House” along the south side of the 40-year-old building.

But no more than 10 feet away, a black University of Iowa sign reads “Market-Dubuque Building.”

The differences has many Hillel House members upset.

“It is a little bit frustrating,” said Hillel director Jerry Sorokin. “I think our students feel it underplays the importance of Hillel. It is our building, it’s the facility that is dedicated to the needs of the Jewish student population on campus.”

Following the 2008 flood, the UI School of Art and Art History rented the lower floor of the privately owned Hillel House in 2009 to use as an art gallery, and the UI installed the sign early in the 2009-10 school year. Before that, the Jewish center had been separate from the university.

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Although the center is still private, UI officials added its sign because it was a new UI location.

Officials said they needed the new sign — which can cost around $600 — for mapping and identification.

But Hillel members said they find the sign to be inconsiderate.

“I think it is disrespectful. The building has a name, it has been there since the ’70s,” said UI senior Gustav Anderson, the chef at Hillel. “When they put up the building sign, a lot of people were very upset. I even tried to pull it up, but they concreted it in, so I cannot dig it up anymore.”

UI officials said compromise is possible.

Because the Hillel owners are technically landlords, Robert Brooks, associate director for landscaping at the UI, said he would not foresee any objection to coming to an agreement.

Sorokin said Hillel members may want to post a sign of their own, but he’s aware of city zoning regulations that prevent it.

Hillel House is located in a residential multi-family zone, which allows only one monument sign. The words on the side of the building are large enough to count as the one monument sign. This prevents adding any large signs. The UI sign is smaller and not considered a monument.

“It seems to me like that it is not necessarily that big of a deal,” said Jann Ream, a code-enforcement assistant for Iowa City. “[A second sign] seems rather reasonable, and that would be something he could approach.”

For Sorokin, the perfect solution would be a split sign, but UI officials told him changing the name would be too difficult once the university had already entered the name into its mapping systems.

“I was told that from the conversations I had, they all gave me the distinct impression that it would be wasted energy,” Sorokin said. “Maybe that is not true. I would be happy to resolve it.”

Diane Machatka, an associate director for space planning and utilization in UI Facilities Management, said Sorokin’s split sign suggestion would be unique.

“I cannot think of any location where the university sign lists both a university program and space that is not affiliated with the university in any way,” she said. “It sounds like something we just need to sit down and have a conversation about.”

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