UI students, faculty reflect on five years of recovery from 2008 flood


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The once theatrical Hancher Auditorium now sits abandoned among mounds of dirt, construction tape, and heavy machinery.

June 2008 will be remembered for the infamous flood that damaged much of the University of Iowa riverside campus.

While most damage to the campus was minor, the Arts Campus on the west bank of the Iowa River took a devastating hit. Hancher, once host to a variety of shows ranging from music to dance is still shut down by floodwaters that exceeded stage level. Art Buildings East and West, Voxman Music Building, and Theater Building were also severely damaged and closed after water flooded their main levels.

Fast-forward to 2013 and the impending five-year anniversary of the flood.

Even though a majority of the facilities reopened in the months following the flooding, the Arts Campus still remains in limbo, as do students and faculty. The flood damage has created a list of inconveniences, including travel time to relocated buildings, in addition to not being able to experience previous buildings’ amenities.

Art Major

UI art major Jessica Isadore knows all too well the difficulties of having class at the Studio Arts Building, 1375 Highway 1 W., not that far from the Iowa City Airport. She has to allow around 15 minutes of travel time to get to the temporary space in the old Menards. Besides the distance and time it takes to commute, the physical structure of the facility has its setbacks.

“When planes go over, it’s very loud, and when it rains, it’s very loud,” she said. “It makes it really hard [to pay attention].”

The classrooms at Studio Arts are set up like cubicles rather than regular classrooms, making it hard to keep the sound separated from each room. Add the traffic noise from Highway 1, and it can be very hard to concentrate during a lesson.

The reopening of Art Building West last spring semester had a huge effect on the atmosphere of the School of Art and Art History, despite the challenges of getting the building reorganized.

“It’s really good to be back here; being here makes you feel like you’re an art student,” Isadore said.

The reopening of Art Building West marked the completion of renovations to the first major campus building that had been severely damaged by the flood. Part of the $14.2 million that went into repairing the facility the university used to create an “invisible” floodwall — a removable 900-foot wall that can be built in two to three days in case a major flood approaches again.

Isadore said she has been lucky to be able to use Art Building West, but unfortunately will graduate before the completion of the new arts facility.

“Travel between the two buildings will be so nice because everything will just be kept together and be a united School of Art and Art History again,” she said.

Music Major

For UI sophomore and music-therapy major Delaney Donohue, the closed facilities are making scheduling classes for next semester a hassle.

“Next semester, I’m probably going to have to end up switching a class I really need to take, because I wouldn’t be able to get across the river in time,” Donohue said.

Like the art students, music students have had to deal with difficulties scheduling classes because of commuting between buildings. The School of Music has space on Clinton Street and the University Capitol Center, and it uses Music West Interim Building as a rehearsal space for large ensembles, which causes the problem of getting across the river quickly between classes, often while carrying an instrument.

Figuring out how to work out a music schedule is difficult for students because there are lots of extra requirements, including solo and group rehearsals and practice time.

Overall, the effects of the flood have not diminished Donohue’s experiences in the music school, but they have added some interesting aspects.

“You just grow a bond with everyone going through the same thing as you,” she said. “It’s nice to have people around you who will help you not have a meltdown.”

Dance Major

UI senior and dance major Hope Spear, spent her last four years as an undergrad performing at Space/Place in North Hall — the substitute stage for Hancher Auditorium.

While Space/Place provided a place for her to show off her dance skills, she said, she was disappointed in not getting the Hancher performance experience during her four years.

“It is definitely sad to not get to experience such a huge part of the Dance Department’s history at the university,” Spear said. “Space/Place is great, but not the same as performing in such an extraordinary theater as Hancher.”

But her performances weren’t the only aspect affected.

“We also missed out on all of the renowned dance companies and performances that used to come to Iowa City to perform at Hancher,” she said.

Art and Music Faculty

David Gier, the director of the music school, recalls working quickly to keep the school up and running after the water spilled over the banks.

The August after the floods, the music school was housed in 19 different locations. Most academic majors could get away with makeshift offices and classrooms, but the needs of music students are much different.

“We have things such as large ensembles that need a lot of space and produce a lot of sound,” he said. “And you really have to have a room with a lot of volume in order for it to actually be safe for the participants.”

Cambus played a major role in making all of the commuting possible by adapting its schedule and putting in an extra bus route for students who connected between the makeshift facilities of the music school.

However, one of the biggest hurdles has been the absence of a large concert hall, which has had an effect on the school’s undergraduate recruitment.

“When they come, and they don’t see that comprehensive facility, I think it affects the decision somewhat,” Gier said.

But now, with the beginning of construction on the new music facility, he is excited to tell prospective students that they’ll play their senior recital in a new building.

“We are going to end up with a magnificent building, and it’s going to be eight full years out of our facilities,” Gier said. “We’re paying a fairly hefty premium for this whole recovery effort, but it’s going to be great.”

UI art Professor Steve McGuire recalls how, three days after he was flooded out of his house, he had to figure out where to put the art and art history school.

A former colleague suggested the Old Menards building, and the project went from design to construction in seven days. The gray panels that make up the walls of the classrooms were shipped overnight from Las Vegas, and a year’s worth of construction was done in about seven weeks to ensure the building would be ready for students.

But the departments will eventually be separated as construction is ready to begin on a new studio-arts building — something McGuire says is a milestone.

“Freshman students entering next year will see their last academic year in that new building, which is pretty exciting,” he said.

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