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FEMA denies Museum of Art funding, again

BY ALISON SULLIVAN | JANUARY 31, 2011 7:10 AM

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If University of Iowa officials expect to build a new Museum of Art, the Federal Emergency Management Agency says the school needs to look at other options for funding.

Officials with the agency’s Region VII denied the UI’s appeal for funding replacement costs for the museum damaged in the 2008 floods. FEMA informed the university of the decision in the summer of 2010, but university officials appealed.

Despite announcing the denial from regional officials Jan. 28, the university intends to push its appeal to FEMA’s headquarters in Washington D.C.

In FEMA’s denial letter, federal officials pointed out the art collection’s west of the river location has been “in a special flood hazard area, and the applicant has been able to maintain insurance on both” since 1974.

FEMA also found the UI museum did not have at least 50 percent in damages — a requirement for funding, said Bob Josephson, external affairs officer for FEMA Region VII.

Within the denial letter, FEMA officials give alternative options for the university including relocation and flood-mitigation methods.

“The key point is that there are activities that they can do that we can help pay for,” Josephson said.

Building floodwalls or moving mechanical equipment from the basement to higher levels in the building are examples of flood-mitigation efforts to which FEMA could contribute, Josephson said.

“The university feels it has a strong position based on FEMA’s own rules,” said UI spokesman Tom Moore.

After the flood, Lloyd’s of London, which insures the UI’s artwork, stated it would discontinue insurance of the collection if the artwork remained in the current building.

The UI said it is not able to obtain insurance for the building in its current location, and four other insurance companies also said they would not provide insurance.

FEMA said it understood the difficulty of obtaining insurance, but officials said they weren’t convinced “insuring the fine art collection is impossible.”

“It would be irresponsible and irrational to put the university’s valuable fine art collection in a facility in the revised floodplain, where it would be at risk and not be able to be insured for some reasonable amount,” said UI General Counsel Carroll Reasoner in a press release Jan. 28.

Regent Robert Downer said he’s optimistic the UI will receive funding.

“I think the UI and Lloyd’s of London’s positions throughout have been sound, and I feel the university will eventually prevail in the situation,” he said.

Josephson encouraged the university to consider other options, such as repairing instead of rebuilding.

“We’re not saying they cannot relocate the building outside of their desires, but we’re going to cover the repair costs, and it’d be up to the university to fill in that gap,” he said.

Art major Ellen Cyrier said she felt cheated after hearing about a friend who transferred to another school that received a new art and music building.

“Exhibitions come, and they get to see all that stuff,” she said. “We don’t have that anymore.”


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