Hancher exterior sees demolition


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As the sun settled in over the construction zone Monday morning, Doug and Karen Kerns watched as a wrecking ball rose high above old Hancher Auditorium.

The ball paused above what formerly served as Hancher’s box office entrance before being released onto the foundation.  After several attempts, the wrecking ball pounded through the roof of the entrance, sending it falling to the concrete.

Monday’s events marked the first impact on old Hancher’s exterior following months of inside demolition to rid the now-vacant facility of asbestos. Crane operators first struck the north face of old Hancher shortly after 9 a.m., and they continued to strike various parts of the roof during the morning.

The Kerns, longtime residents of the area, usually spend their mornings walking through City Park, but they didn’t know the external demolition was taking place. However, they walked over to watch the construction from the Levitt Center — a view that entertains both the new and old facilities.

Doug Kern, 69, said he’s looking forward to having University of Iowa fine-arts performances return to Hancher, as he and his wife Karen, 65, still attend events that are now held throughout the Iowa City area.

“It’ll take a while, but [Hancher] will eventually be back to where it was,” Doug Kern said. “We’ve seen a lot of changes in Iowa City, and we’ve seen a lot of new things coming in, but I think it’s all for the best.”

UI officials seem to think so, too.

Several campus figures called the initial demolition to Hancher’s exterior a “symbolic” event in the UI’s flood-recovery process.

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“It’s clear that there is a great deal of excitement about today’s symbolic milestone in the UI’s ongoing recovery from the 2008 flood,” UI President Sally Mason said in a statement. “The beginning of the visible demolition of the original Hancher Auditorium may cause mixed emotions for many of us, but this is a vitally important step toward our ultimate goal of creating a world-class fine-arts campus.”

The 2008 flood severely damaged the Hancher/Voxman/Clapp complex, with floodwaters exceeding the stage level in Hancher. In the five years since the flood, UI officials have wrestled with the task of securing FEMA funding for flood-damaged buildings. Officials were also faced with the task of clearing these buildings of asbestos before any external demolition took place.

“We were held by FEMA to keep the building in a sort of suspended state until all the Ts were crossed and Is were dotted,” said Rod Lehnertz, the director of planning, design, and construction for UI Facilities Management.

The Hancher/Voxman/Clapp complex should be demolished by the end of this calendar year, Lehnertz said.

North of the old building, work on Hancher’s replacement facility continues each day. A 1,400-cubic-yard pour of concrete at the new site also took place early Monday morning. Hancher’s replacement has a projected completion date of May 2016. New Hancher sits 7 to 8 feet above the 500-year flood level.

“In this case and in any new building we’re doing … [they] are all positioned so they’re considerably higher and above the flood risk,” Lehnertz said.

As the flood recovery continues, officials recognize that the road to 2016 is a long one.

“There’s no doubt there’s going to be inconveniences during this period of ‘excuse our dust’,” Lehnertz said. “The endgame and what we will see in 2016, as we emerge from this construction, will be transformational.”

UI spokesman Tom Moore told The Daily Iowan Monday that Cambus routes would not be affected by Hancher’s demolition and its replacement’s construction.

Though traffic congestion on the West Side remains an ongoing concern as these projects develop.

“There’s no doubt for the time period that we’re in right now that there are more crowded streets, more contractors on our site, more barriers that are affecting both pedestrian and vehicular traffic,” Lehnertz said. “… But it’s one of those things we deal with when having this much construction.”

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