UI officials focus on historic preservation

BY BEN MARKS | NOVEMBER 10, 2014 5:00 AM

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In 2008, when floodwaters rose all over Iowa, many historic buildings were damaged and needed to be torn down.

In the wake of the flood recovery and rebuilding, Iowa Homeland Security historic project specialist Marlys Svendsen said the University of Iowa has impressed her with its increased support of historic preservation.

“The university has really upgraded the quality of its historic preservation efforts in the past few years,” she said. “They weren’t always as supportive of preservation as they are now.”

On Nov. 8 an example of that increased university support came in the form of an all-day symposium on “Sustainability through historic salvage,” which Svendsen participated in.

Liz Christiansen, the director of the UI Office of Sustainability and one of the organizers for the event, said she has been working on making the symposium a reality for the past two years, and she was amazed at how successful it was.

“More than 100 people registered for an event we thought we’d be lucky to get 40,” she said.

When historic buildings are damaged and federal recovery departments, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency are involved, they are required to mitigate the loss of the historic buildings to the best of their ability.

To do so, they reach out to local organizations such as Friends of Historic Preservation to coordinate what is called architectural historic preservation.

“When a building has to be demolished for one reason or another, such as building the new art building,” said Alicia Trimble, executive director of Friends of Historic Preservation, “there are a lot of materials that are completely reusable, and often better than modern materials that can then be used to restore old construction or build new construction.”

Trimble said to build a new art building, the old graduate painting studio, housed in an old Mediterranean-style former fraternity house, was torn down.

However the studio, of historic value, had many elements to it such as its terra cotta roof tiles, which were completely reusable.

To reduce the loss of the historic structure then, a construction team removed the tiles from the building and transported them to the Salvage Barn, 2401 Scott Blvd. S.E., where they were cleaned up and made ready for resale or used in the construction of the art building.

Historic preservation doesn’t only deal with removing materials before demolition however, it also involves restoring buildings that might be demolished, such as the Englert Theater a few years ago.

It’s this way, Trimble said, which historic preservation not only helps to keep history from being destroyed, it also helps to reduce a building’s environmental impact.

“It’s kind of the green alternative to new buildings,” she said. “If your building was built before 1930, it will almost always have a better energy-star rating than anything that can be built today. In addition, an incredible amount of the material in landfills is from building demolition.”

This is especially important in Iowa City, Svendsen said, because Iowa City has more National Registered Historic Districts per capita than any other city in Iowa its size.

Svendsen also said historic preservation is a tool to make communities more livable.

“Some of the neighborhoods that people discarded mentally in 1990 are now some of the most prized neighborhoods in a community to live in, to shop in, to have their children attend school in,” she said. “It helps to stabilize an environment that could definitely have gone the other way.”

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