As Flood Threat Recedes, U. of Iowa Takes Down Barriers and Adds Up Costs

Hesco barriers protect the U. of Iowa's Iowa Memorial Union from the Iowa River, which overflowed its banks but caused minimal damage ont he campus. (Photo by Tim Schoon, U. of Iowa)

Hesco barriers protect the U. of Iowa’s Iowa Memorial Union from the Iowa River, which overflowed its banks but caused minimal damage on the campus. (Photo by Tim Schoon, U. of Iowa)

Just five years after flooding on the Iowa River caused an estimated $743-million worth of damage to more than 20 structures at the University of Iowa, high-water forecasts in May forced the university to close buildings, put up seven miles’ worth of emergency flood walls, and cancel or reschedule some events.

This time, though, the high water never amounted to much more than a campuswide—and citywide—inconvenience, and on Friday university officials said water levels at a reservoir above Iowa City had dropped enough that they’re preparing to take the flood walls down. They estimated that they had spent $2.6-million constructing the temporary barriers, while removing them is expected to cost $1.25-million and restoring sidewalks and landscaping will cost an additional $1-million, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported.

This year’s emergency measures included closing several buildings on the west bank of the river, among them the theater building, two art buildings, and a building being used by the music department because the main music building is being demolished after suffering severe damage in the 2008 flood. The best-known of the west-campus buildings is Art Building West, a 2006 showpiece by the architect Steven Holl that cantilevers out over a quarry pond. Following the 2008 flood, it was equipped with a flood wall that can be put up or taken down in about three days.

Also closed were a large residence hall, the university boathouse, and two pedestrian bridges, among other facilities. The Iowa Memorial Union, the campus water-treatment plant, and Frank Gehry’s Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories were protected with walls of Hesco barriers, big wire-mesh blocks lined with fabric and filled with sand. Also, summer music camps were cancelled, and a number of performances that had been scheduled for the university theater were relocated.

Meanwhile, recovery from the 2008 flood continues. Most of the studio-art programs are still housed off campus in a former big-box store while a new building by Mr. Holl is under construction. Work is also under way on an 1,800-seat replacement by Pelli Clarke Pelli for the university’s ruined, 2,500-seat Hancher Auditorium, as well as on a new music facility downtown.

Only the future of the university’s art museum remains uncertain. Museum employees won their race to remove artworks from the riverside building before the 2008 flood, but they now say their insurers will never let them return valuable pieces to it. Although the federal government picked up much of the cost of replacing other ruined buildings on the campus, federal officials insist that the art museum was not too badly damaged to reuse. For the time being, much of the university collection is on display an hour away at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport.


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