Mason: UI officials won't give up on new art museum funding


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The state Board of Regents approved the schematic design and budget for three University of Iowa buildings damaged in the 2008 flood.

However, one other structure's fate remains uncertain.

The state's top education officials, who toured the UI campus Wednesday, said that within the next four years, they plan to build a new Hancher, art building, and music facility with a total approved budget of $400 million.

But the UI's Art Museum — which was destroyed by the 2008 flood and whose art collection is housed in various locations — still awaits funding approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA first denied the UI funding in 2010, stating the university could use preventative measures instead of rebuilding. The UI has since appealed.

President Sally Mason said officials will be patient.

"We've got a number of projects underway," she said. "We'll wait for it as long as it takes."

Rod Lehnertz, the director of planning, design, and construction for UI Facilities Management, said it would be counterproductive to pick a location and push forward any specific design plans for a new museum without FEMA funding approval.

"We're waiting for FEMA's word on whether it will be or should be replaced, and then we can advance," he said. "We are resolved to bring the art collection back to our campus. How we do that will be different if FEMA says no."

However, it's too soon to say how exactly the museum's construction would be funded if FEMA doesn't come through.

If FEMA funding is not approved, Mason said, she hopes to continue the museum project.

"If we hit the end of the road," she said, "we'll have a different plan in place that might involve fundraising or asking all our friends for help."

Barb Sturner, external affairs specialist for FEMA's Region VII, said in order for a replacement building to be funded by the agency, the costs to repair the disaster-damaged building must exceed 50 percent of the cost to replace that building.

UI officials said they are currently facing that situation.

"We cannot put the art collection back into the old museum," Lehnertz said. "The facility is damaged, so we cannot insure the collection in the former building. It's an enormous and important collection."

Lehnertz added the museum relies on partnerships with other universities and shared collections, whose art could not be traded if the UI facility is not insured.

Regents appeared to be sympathetic to the efforts by university officials to ensure the rebuilding of the art museum.

"We have confidence and hope with FEMA," said Regent Bruce Rastetter.

And Regent President Craig Lang shared his optimism.

"The art museum is a key priority with or without FEMA's funding," he said.

But Sturner said the more complicated the damage is, the longer the process.

"We've been working with the university on [the art museum], and we'll continue to talk with them and work on determining what we can for them under the law," Sturner said.

Mason said even if the current request for funding is denied, the university will try to appeal the decision as many times as possible.

"The museum is an important resource, and that's the key argument we've made with FEMA. We have one of the best and most valuable collections of any university in the nation," she said. "It's not only a valuable resource for teachers and students, but for the community as well. We're not going to walk away from that."

Correction (appended 04/08/12):

The March 21 article "Mason: UI officials won't give up on new art museum funding," the DI incorrectly reported in order for a new art museum to be funded by FEMA, the current building must be uninsurable. In order for a replacement building to be funded by the agency, the costs to repair the disaster-damaged building must exceed 50 percent of the cost to replace that building. FEMA is considering the university's appeal. The DI regrets the error.

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