UI officials listen to public opinion on Art Building


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As more than 15 community members weighed in on what they believe should be done to the old University of Iowa Art Building, one thing was clear: The building is about both history and community.

On June 18, UI officials along with representatives from INVISION Architecture talked with members of the public about repurposing the 1936 Art Building.

Pertinent information, such as photos of the original building, flood maps, and drawings, were available for viewing. These showcased the history as well as the damage to the building during the 2008 flood.

Flooding devastated many communities in eastern Iowa and caused billions of dollars in damages throughout the state.

“It is our job tonight to listen to you,” said Rod Lehnertz, the UI interim vice president for Finance & Operations. “We are not here to give ideas on what we think would be right or what would be wrong.”

Many of the suggestions from the audience revolved around Grant Wood, a famous Iowa artist who lived in Iowa City and taught at the university in the 1930s.

In the basement of the building are two murals, one of which has been attributed to Wood, the other to American artist Fletcher Martin. The flood revealed the Wood mural after washing away the drywall that had covered it.

A representative of the Grant Wood Art Colony suggested renaming the building after Wood.

At the meeting, officials said the basement could not be publicly used after the building is repurposed in compliance with FEMA standards.

Moving the murals to a different location is a costly option, Lehnertz said.

“We have looked at the possibility to be removed from the site,” Lehnertz said. “It’s about $1 million to remove each, and then, Where do you put them?”

The University of Iowa River Valley Historic District, spanning from West Burlington Street north to Mayflower Hall, sustained the most severe damage on campus during the 2008 flood.

One of the many structures affected was the Art Building, which was considered by many to be the centerpiece of the Arts Campus.

“Constructed and completed in 1936, it was really the catalyst of the original structure for the Arts Campus,” said Brett Van Zee, one of the two consultants from INVISION Architecture.

Since the flood, there have been two major recovery projects designed to save the facility.

“The first was the demolition project that removed the east building as well as the south complex,” Van Zee said. “Then the mothballing project; that was really to lock in the building and stop further deterioration.”

One of the major issues that the university must face with the building is its location, which leaves it susceptible to flooding, said Jill Goedken, a consultant with INVISION architecture.

“Some of the lower levels and first-floor rooms are not going to be repurposed, in addition to the basement,” she said. “This is because this is a flood-prone building, and many of these rooms don’t have any windows or ventilation.”

Lehnertz said the history of the building is the reason it is being re-purposed instead of torn down.

“It’s about the windows, it’s about its views to the river, and it’s about the details that we strive to maintain; we are keeping this building for a reason,” he said.

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