UI continues to rebuild after 2008 flood


Rod Lehnertz watched from a distance as the University of Iowa campus succumbed to nearly 15 feet of water one hot June day.

Water filled the IMU basement and the English Philosophy Building, along with 20 other buildings on campus.

Lehnertz said by as early as March, officials began to worry about what they were seeing on campus in terms of the wet conditions and high levels of precipitation. And by May 27, they knew something was going to impact the campus β€” officials were just unsure of what exactly that might be.

“On Thursday June 12 we knew we had lost the campus or that we were going to lose the campus,” said Lehnertz, the director of planning, design, and construction for UI Facilities Management.

Five years ago this summer, the Iowa River flooded a large section of the UI campus, as well as several sections in the state of Iowa.

And today, officials said that while there has been progress made since the river crested on June 15, 2008, there is still much to be one on the university campus.

The water damaged roughly one-sixth of campus and cost more than $232 million as of April 2013, according to state Board of Regents reports. Officials estimate the entire recovery process will cost around $743 million.

“We have never done this much work at one time, and we’ll never do this much work in a short period of time on this campus ever again,” Lehnertz said, referring to the flood recovery construction. “We’re testing the boundaries of size for this recovery.”

Despite the increase in construction and inconvenience to students, UI President Sally Mason said the next generation of students who attend the UI will see a very different streetscape.

“There’s a whole generation of our students who have not been in the basement of the IMU. They don’t even know that the bookstore used to be down there and that’s where the bookstore will go back to,” Mason said. “So I think this next generation of students β€” the ones who will be there when we open these buildings β€” when we finish these projects, they have a lot to look forward to in terms of new facilities and really the excitement that comes with a state of the art facility.”

Art Building West

Art students packed up their supplies and said goodbye to their temporary home in preparation for Art Building West to reopen during the beginning of the 2012 spring semester.

This $11 million project is considered the first and only major flood-damaged building to be completely restored.

Before the reopening however, officials worried about how the damage would affect the building.

Robert Bork, a UI professor of Art History, said he was most worried about the equipment and returning to the location took longer than he had anticipated.

“I was worried about the massive collection of physical slides an computers that allow our Art History classes to run, but I learned that all of those were successfully evacuated before the waters rose too high,” Bork said. “Getting back into the building took far longer than I’d anticipated.”

One way officials worked to protect the building for future potential natural disasters was to build an invisible flood wall that consisted of panels that can be quickly constructed to keep out floodwater and then be taken down.

Since the building has been open for almost a year, Bork said student reaction seems to be positive.

“Now that we’re all back in Art Building West, students and faculty can enjoy optimized classroom and library experiences under one roof, with all the support we need, and with many more opportunities for dialogue,” Bork said. “And on a symbolic level, the department has a real home again, which is important for the morale of faculty, staff, and students.”

Hancher Auditorium

The Hancher/Voxman/Clapp complex will be demolished by the end of the year, yet officials say this will not happen before a few preliminary measures.

The over $175 million project was originally supposed to break ground last year, however officials expect to begin the asbestos abatement this summer.

“The demolition of Hancher/Voxman/Clapp complex is nearly underway,” Lehnertz said. “While the general public won’t see a lot of action outside, there will be a lot of action inside coming here in just a matter of weeks.”

Lehnertz said all three buildings will be completely moved by the end of the year.

“That’ll be the beginning of a new landscape for the campus …It’s former footprint will be green space along the river.”

Charles Swanson, the executive director of Hancher, said the new state of the art building came at just the right time.

“It ended up being a real positive end,” Swanson said. “The old building was very tired, had been great to close to 40 years in spite of the flood there would’ve been a lot of other things that we would’ve had to of done to bring the original building into the 21st century.”

FEMA funding

Officials are also walking tightropes when it comes to the funding of several buildings.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency granted more than $112 million in renovation funds in 2012 and denied for the third time the funding in March to build a replacement for the Art Museum.

FEMA originally denied the UI funding for the museum in 2010, and university officials appealed that decision.

Instead, a portion of the UI Foundation’s $1.7 billion fundraising campaign announced earlier this month, For Iowa Forever More, will help partially fund the new location.

Mason told The Daily Iowan that she would like the see the museum in a central location possibly somewhere in downtown Iowa City.

And regardless of some issues presented with the Art Museum, Mason said the UI is vigilant in their work with FEMA.

“We’re always vigilant and we’re always trying to be careful as we possibly can so that we follow all the rules, so that we don’t get cross wise with FEMA or any of our other partners,” she said.

And Lehnertz echoed those thoughts.

“Our main objective is to maximize eligibility for federal funding and we ensure to the best of our ability to make sure whatever is eligible remains eligible,” Lehnertz said. “We have been exceptionally careful and extreme in our record keeping.”

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