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New Hancher over halfway complete

BY BILL COONEY AND BEN MARKS | AUGUST 06, 2015 5:00 AM

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In a little more than a year, one of campus’s crown jewels will open its doors to welcome patrons as it casts its gleaming reflection on the river below.

Construction on the new Hancher Auditorium is on track and on schedule to be mostly completed in March 2016, said Kim Zwald, an engineer with Mortenson Construction.

Roughly the same size as the previous auditorium, the new Hancher better utilizes the space, Zwald said.

“The previous auditorium sat 2,500 people; we brought that down to 1,800,” Zwald said. “We reduced the number for acoustics, so every seat in the house gets the best possible sound.”

With 24-inch thick concrete walls and a ceiling 90 feet above, standing on stage gives an idea of the massive project underway now for more than a year and a half.

The rehearsal hall will have the same dampened wooden flooring as the stage and will be one of the most-used spaces in the building, Zwald said.

“They’ll hold weddings, dinners, a lot of other events here,” she said. “Really, you could use this room for whatever you want.”

Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson said both staff and the public are eagerly awaiting the return of the auditorium.

“It’s very exciting; it’s thrilling to hear the comments from people because, of course, Hancher is right there front and center for people to see,” he said.

The Hancher staff will move in around May 2016 in order to “test the building out” and get everything organized for its opening, he said.

“You don’t just open a place like that; there’s a lot of work we have to do in advance to prepare ourselves for the work that’s going to go on in that building,” he said.  “Just as the workers are building Hancher, we’re busy building the operational part of Hancher, too.”

Zwald said work among the 17 different contractors hired by the University of Iowa has gone smoothly.

“They’ve only had one major setback, which was the first winter, in which it got really cold,” Zwald said. “But they got back on schedule by working some 24-hour days.”

Swanson said one of the things he’s most looking forward to about the new Hancher is once again having a large stage for performances.

“There have been certain shows — the Broadway shows, the major orchestras, the dance companies — the things we used to be able to do with the old Hancher stage that we haven’t been able to accommodate,” he said.

Zwald said one of the unique things about the new facility is the ceiling.

“The ceiling is blue; that’s not typical, the ceiling is usually black in most other theaters,” she said. “But it makes it unique, and I think that’s the goal of this project, to build something unique.”


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