Iowa City, UI officials talk recovery on flood's four-year anniversary

BY ALY BROWN | JUNE 14, 2012 6:30 AM

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Four years ago this week, the Iowa River flooded a large section of the University of Iowa campus and parts of Iowa City.

Today, officials said that while much has been restored since the record-breaking, building-busting 2008 flood, the recovery process is far from over.

Don Guckert, the UI associate vice president for Facilities Management, remembers the 500-year flood.

"This is actually the anniversary," he said Wednesday. "Friday the 13th was the morning the water flooded our buildings."

The water, which peaked on June 15, damaged roughly one-sixth of campus and cost more than $232 million as of April 30, according to the state Board of Regents. Officials have estimated the entire recovery process will cost around $743 million.

Despite the cost and years of rebuilding, UI President Sally Mason said the campus continues to improve.

"We lost so many buildings and so much square footage," she told The Daily Iowan Wednesday. "We're at the point where much of this has been recovered — that's the good news."

Flood-damaged buildings

The buildings that remain vacant, including Hancher Auditorium, Clapp Recital Hall, and the Voxman Music Building, should see "some form of construction" on replacements in the next 18 months, Guckert said.

Construction on flood-damaged campus buildings will be substantially completed within the next four years, according to the regents' June 6 timetable.

The new music facility is scheduled for an August 2016 completion. The Hancher replacement is slated for significant completion by December 2015.

Renovation of the IMU is expected to be finished February 2015. Guckert said a potential terrace on the IMU's west side could serve as a gathering area outside the River Room as well as a protective barrier.

Art Building West was the first major flood-damaged building to reopen, in 2011. The project cost roughly $11 million.

The design and planning for flood-damaged buildings take years, but Guckert said it has been a collaborative effort.

"It has been a very active effort on all fronts," he said. "Project managers, building occupants, and officials all have been working to advance the designs."

FEMA funding

Officials are also waiting to secure federal funding for some of the buildings.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency granted more than $112 million in renovation funds earlier this year but did not fund building a replacement for the Art Museum. FEMA found the museum's flood damage below the necessary level to qualify for funding and denied the UI's second appeal.

At a flood-recovery update for the regents on June 6, UI Senior Vice President for Finance Doug True said litigation is a possible course of action for UI officials.

But Mason said UI officials have other options to consider first.

"The one thing I want to be very clear about is that we're committed to bringing back our art collection to the campus," she told the DI. "Our appeal was very clear that FEMA could be a really good partner for us, so we're going to keep pursuing that and try to do it in a positive way."

City repairs

City Public Works Director Rick Fosse said the city is also working on several flood-recovery and mitigation projects. The Iowa City Gateway Project is a combination of an effort to raise Dubuque Street and replace the Park Road bridge at an estimated cost of $32 million.

Fosse said the project is undergoing an environmental review to determine the construction's effect.

"If all goes as planned, we want that project completed by the end of 2015," he said.

The largest flood-mitigation project underway is the relocation of the North Wastewater Treatment Facility, Fosse said.

The city is working on three separate levee projects, including a Taft Speedway levee.

Fosse said the city is now 75 percent complete in its flood-recovery process and is better prepared for a similar disaster.

"What still needs to happen is replacing the animal shelter," he said, noting it was a total loss.

Flood preparedness

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assisted in the flood-disaster response. The Corps is called into action when officials at the county and state level are overwhelmed by the magnitude of an event.

Rodney Delp, the chief of Corps Emergency Management, said the flood has made officials more focused on preparedness. Delp said the emergency-response protocols remain the same, but training now emphasizes planning and team preparedness.

"There is always something that we could improve on," he said. "But historically, the better we plan, the better the response."

Moving forward

The flood forced the community to learn about its vulnerability to nature, but it also brought the campus and city together in a time of crisis.

The university lost several buildings that were central to the city's identity, and the flood made officials re-evaluate how the community should interact with the river.

Mason said although the flood was "gut-wrenching," it brought Iowans together.

"The flood brought us together as a community like no other event could," she said. "Four years later, I think the community and its resolve to stay together, to be strong, is still there."

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