University of Iowa facing delays, higher costs on flood projects, Mason says

President tells legislative committee that federal funding decision needed quickly

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The University of Iowa is entering a critical phase on three major flood recovery projects, and any additional delay of more than a few weeks regarding federal funding will cost time and money for those projects, UI President Sally Mason said Thursday.

The protracted federal dispute over Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for flood-damaged Hancher Auditorium, the School of Music and Art Building East "will cause delays and add expense" for those projects, Mason said. She gave a UI flood update to the Legislative Fiscal Committee during a meeting in Ames.

It's unknown right now how much time and money further delay might cost, Mason told The Gazette after the meeting. If a final decision about the building replacement funding is reached by the federal government within the next few weeks, Mason said, impact to the project budgets and timelines likely will be minimal.

"So if we get a decision this week, it should be pretty straight forward, off we go," she said. "If we go another, what, month, then yeah. I'm willing to wait until after November. If we still haven't heard anything, that's when you're going to start to see delays" that cost money.

The federal dispute is in regards to a FEMA ruling that it would help fund the replacement of those three UI buildings at new sites. A June report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General said FEMA should not pay to replace those buildings at new sites, and that FEMA made mistakes in the process. FEMA officials in August officially sided with the UI, saying the buildings should be replaced. The final decision now rests with federal Homeland Security.

At stake is more than $83 million in funding that had been obligated to the UI for the replacement at new locations of Hancher, the School of Music and Art Building East.

There is no deadline for the federal government to decide, but Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad sent a letter last month to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, asking for a decision by Oct. 17. Branstad Spokesman Tim Albrecht on Thursday said in an email that state officials find the federal inaction on the decision unacceptable. He called it a "prime example of bureaucratic red tape."

"The University of Iowa wants to move forward, but unfortunately, needed progress is stalled," Albrecht said.

A flood recovery timeline Mason presented to the fiscal committee showed completion dates for the three projects that are unchanged from recent timelines. She said officials will adjust the completion dates as needed when they get a final decision about the funding.

UI officials hope to hear that word before the state Board of Regents meeting next week in Iowa City, Mason said.

"We think that we'll hear something soon, which is why I can't say how much is it going to cost," she said. "We'll start projecting out costs when we get to, honestly, post-election. We're still waiting until after that, then we're going to start the clock ticking in terms of the longer we wait, the more this costs."

Current projected completion of a new Hancher Auditorium is late 2015 or early 2016, with completion of the School of Music and Art Building East both set for 2016.

Mason also gave the current total estimate for UI flood damage and recovery, of $862.5 million. That fluctuates with each project bid and will continue to do so, Mason said. Officials had previously said they thought flood damage and recovery could reach $1 billion.

That makes the UI the single largest entity FEMA has ever dealt with in terms of disaster recovery, Mason said.

"We're anxious, obviously, to get these three large projects underway," she said. "It's going to take a little bit more time but the outcome, we hope, is going to be quite spectacular and really a benefit to all Iowans."

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