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Historical campus building undergoes changes

BY LILY ABROMEIT | OCTOBER 22, 2013 5:00 AM

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Rounding the corner onto Clinton Street a few short months ago would have presented a much different scene than the one that now inhabits the land behind the sign reading “Dey House Writer’s Workshop.”

The Dey House, which houses the Iowa’s Writers Workshop, is now accessorized with a tarp and guarded by a bulldozer. A sign warns visitors the front entrance is closed for renovation while it undergoes the first project focused on the main building in its history.

“The UI is working to preserve historical buildings that it owns,” said Eli Ehlinger, UI construction projects manager. “We think it’s important to the UI to preserve this history and these buildings.”

The project is estimated to cost around $300,000 and to be completed toward the end of November. The update will include upgraded windows, siding, and front porch of the building.

Ehlinger said these changes will make maintenance and overall upkeep on the historic building much more manageable.

“In terms of windows, it’ll be more efficient and more comfortable,” he said. “Exterior-wise, it’ll keep up the appearance [and] make the exterior nicer.”

Richard Kenney, a poet and UI visiting professor, said he is glad the construction will not affect the “historical” look of the building, because the Dey House represents the face of the Writers’ Workshop.

The Workshop began in 1936 and has hosted a number of renowned writers, such as Kurt Vonnegut, John Berryman and Robert Lowell. After its rapid growth following World War II, the program grew to accommodate more than 100 students studying poetry and fiction writing.

Ehlinger said the Dey House has not seen any construction since the Glenn Schaeffer Library was added as a relatively recent addition, something that did not affect the central building.

The improved appearance is something first-year graduate student Alice Gribbin said she is looking forward to, because she thinks “it was starting to look a bit messy” from the outside.

Gribbin traveled to Iowa from England and is one of many who came to the UI specifically because she had heard of the prominence of the Writers’ Workshop.

“Of course, all historic houses are very beautiful, but this one is especially iconic,” she said.

First-year graduate student Winter Goebel was also attracted by the program and does not think the construction is of any concern to the integrity of the house.

“If they’re making things efficient, then I’m all for it,” Goebel said. “I think the change in the aesthetics is value-neutral … the Dey House is just a beautiful old farmhouse.”

John Kenyon, the executive director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, said the building and program mark a historic and important aspect of Iowa City’s success in becoming a City of Literature.

“[It] is one of the shining lights of literary culture in Iowa City,” Kenyon said. “It is a resource for not just the students,but the entire community.”


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