UI continues to rebuild after 2008 flood


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Rod Lehnertz watched from a distance as the University of Iowa campus succumbed to nearly 15 feet of water one hot June day.

Water filled the IMU basement and the English-Philosophy Building, along with 20 other buildings on campus.

Lehnertz said that by as early as March in 2008, officials began to worry about what they were seeing on campus in terms of the wet conditions and high levels of precipitation. And by May 27, they knew something was going to affect the campus — officials were just unsure of what exactly that might be.

“On Thursday, June 12, we knew we had lost the campus or that we were going to lose the campus,” said Lehnertz, the director of planning, design, and construction for UI Facilities Management.

Five years ago this summer, the Iowa River flooded a large section of the UI campus and Iowa City; a handful of areas across the state were also hit by flooding.

Today, officials said that while progress has been made since the river crested on June 15, 2008, there is still much to be done on the campus.

The water damaged roughly one-sixth of campus and had cost more than $240 million as of April 2013, according to state Board of Regents’ reports. Officials estimate the entire recovery process will cost around $743 million.

“We have never done this much work at one time, and we’ll never do this much work in a short period of time on this campus ever again,” Lehnertz said. “We’re testing the boundaries of size for this recovery.”

Despite the increase in construction and inconvenience for students, UI President Sally Mason said the next generation of students who attend the UI will see a very different landcape.

“I think this next generation of students — the ones who will be there when we open these buildings — when we finish these projects, they have a lot to look forward to in terms of new facilities and really the excitement that comes with a state-of-the-art facility,” she said.

Art Building West

Art students packed up their supplies and said goodbye to their temporary home in preparation for Art Building West to reopen during the beginning of the 2012 spring semester.

The $11 million project is considered the first and only major flood-damaged building to be completely restored.

One way officials worked to protect the building for future potential natural disasters was to build an invisible flood wall that consisted of panels that can be quickly constructed to keep out floodwater and then be taken down. This system was put into place several weeks ago as Iowa River levels rose.

Since the building has been open for almost a year, one professor said student reaction seems to be positive.

“Now that we’re all back in Art Building West, students and faculty can enjoy optimized classroom and library experiences under one roof, with all the support we need and with many more opportunities for dialogue,” said Robert Bork, a UI professor of art history. “And on a symbolic level, the department has a real home again, which is important for the morale of faculty, staff, and students.”

Hancher Auditorium

The Hancher/Voxman/Clapp complex should be demolished by the end of the year, yet officials say this will not happen before a few preliminary measures.

The project totaling more than $175 million was originally supposed to break ground last year; however, officials expect to begin the asbestos abatement this summer.

Charles Swanson, the Hancher executive director, said the new state-of-the-art facility will come at just the right time.

“It ended up being a real positive end,” Swanson said. “The old building was very tired, had been great to close to 40 years in spite of the flood. There would’ve been a lot of other things that we would’ve had to of done to bring the original building into the 21st century.”

FEMA funding

Officials are also walking tightropes when it comes to the funding of several flood-damaged buildings.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency granted more than $112 million in renovation funds in 2012 and denied for the third time the funding in March to build a replacement for the Art Museum.

FEMA originally denied the UI funding for the museum in 2010, and university officials appealed that decision.

Instead, a portion of the UI Foundation’s $1.7 billion fundraising campaign announced earlier this month, For Iowa Forever More, will help partially fund the museum’s new location.

Lehnertz said the UI is vigilant in its work with FEMA.

“Our main objective is to maximize eligibility for federal funding, and we ensure to the best of our ability to make sure whatever is eligible remains eligible,” Lehnertz said. “We have been exceptionally careful and extreme in our record keeping.”

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