Hancher construction halfway done


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Among cranes, hard hats, and the clambering of power tools, Susan Werner took the stage.

While Hancher Auditorium won’t be complete for another two years, Werner took the chance Wednesday to stand where the stage in the new auditorium will be and strum her guitar as the first unofficial performer, surrounded by cranes and construction.

University of Iowa alumni, staff, and students gathered around East Park Road for the “Leave Your Mark” event on Wednesday to celebrate the near-halfway point of construction on the new Hancher Auditorium, which is expected to be completed in the fall of 2016.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, people could sign a construction beam that workers would then place in the building.

“This is a very, very special day for everybody,” said Charles Swanson, the Hancher executive director, addressing the small audience as the members sat on a hill across from the construction site.

Behind him, the steel beam, with more than 1,000 signatures, was displayed.

After Swanson’s speech, Werner, an Iowa-born folk musician, shared memories of visiting the original Hancher building as a child and then played two songs to commemorate the event.

As she sang, a crane lifted the beam up and placed it in an unfinished wall, as workers hammered it in place.

Retired UI employees were among the attendees, some who spent years dedicating their time to the programs in Hancher.

Janet Rawley, a UI alumna who majored in music, said she wrote on the beam of her memories, “on the stage at Macbride, for an opera or two,” before even the first Hancher building was built.

Michael McNulty, a former faculty and administrative member at UI, with wife Darlene McNulty, a UI alum, said he wanted to visit because throughout the years of involvement with the auditorium, he and his wife felt like they were “part of the Hancher family.”

Later on in the day, Werner performed on the unfinished stage for the workers, making her the very first person to perform in the new Hancher Auditorium. Swanson, echoing a remark made by renowned architect Cesar Pelli, said designing and building an auditorium was a complicated job, similar to “crafting a fine instrument.”

Even though the 2008 flood ultimately led to the demolition of the original Hancher, Swanson said it gave the UI the opportunity to make a state-of-the-art facility Pelli Architects was hired in September 2010 to help design the building, with construction starting in June 2013.

Jan Harvey, the design project manager for the UI, who was tasked with the initial designs for the building, said this was the biggest project she’s ever worked on.

“The scale of the project — it’s huge, [and] it’s certainly not a cookie-cutter type of building,” Harvey said.

Project manager from Mortenson Construction Joe Troness also expressed the pressure of working on such a big building, saying that one of the biggest challenges is ensuring the building is high-quality enough to ensure it will last decades, if not a century.

Troness, who manages the nearly 40 different contractors working on the project, said the new building would be 190,000 square feet, at an estimated $132 million in construction costs.

Despite the magnitude of the project, Swanson said there’s more to come.

“This is just a taste of what’s to come,” he said. “We can’t wait.”

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