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University of Iowa breaks ground on new pharmacy building after long wait

Project marks largest state-supported academic building

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After several hurdles and hiccups including a massive flood, tight budgets and state funding cuts, construction on the University of Iowa’s new pharmacy building officially is underway.

A crowd of more than 100 — including students clad in white coats and legislative dignitaries — gathered Thursday for an official groundbreaking of the long-awaited $96.3 million project that will replace the 55-year-old pharmacy facilities which sits just east of the UI Hospitals and Clinics.

“For 150 years, this institution has been delivering world class research, teaching, and pharmacists out to our state, and it’s remarkable and it’s a point of excellence,” UI President Bruce Harreld said during the ceremony, at which he recognized the lawmakers, donors, faculty, administration, staff, and students who worked together for years to see the project realized.

“We can’t do everything, but what we touch needs to be world class,” Harreld said. “And it’s thanks to your efforts that we’re there in pharmacy.”

The university’s College of Pharmacy is ranked No. 17 in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report. The new pharmacy building will go up near the old on the former site of Quadrangle Hall, which was demolished over the summer. Most of the existing pharmacy facilities, which were built in 1961, will come down — although the south tower, erected in 1996, will remain.

The new pharmacy building, with 296,000 square feet of “state-of-the-art” space, will almost double the size of the current 150,000 square foot print, according to Jen Hoffman, project manager for the UI Office of Planning, Design, and Construction.

It’s expected to open in early 2020 and incorporate an array of cutting edge universal design and academic advancements including 23 learning spaces, a 128-seat learning lecture hall with three 220-inch projection screens, and 16 laboratory-science research spaces.

The new facility also will feature a pharmacy practice learning center, including a mock hospital pharmacy and mock community pharmacy.

“We will be, without question, the envy of our peers once this building is done,” said Donald Letendre, dean of the UI College of Pharmacy. “What this project is doing in terms of boosting morale is almost immeasurable for our staff and faculty.”

Letendre said he’s been pushing for a new pharmacy facility since arriving in 2007. But the 2008 flood delayed the endeavor, and it ended up on deferred maintenance lists due to budget constraints.

In 2012, UI officials called the pharmacy building one of the worst on their deferred maintenance rolls, and in 2013 Gov. Terry Branstad vetoed $6 million for its planning, saying he wanted the university to secure funding first.

Branstad in 2014 again vetoed millions in state support for UI pharmacy building planning.

But, for the project’s construction, lawmakers agreed to give a total $64.3 million, which Harreld on Thursday said makes it “the largest academic building the state has ever supported.”

That funding breaks down to $13 million in the last budget year, $23 million in the current budget year and $28.3 million in the 2018 budget year.

Letendre said the new building comes at a perfect time for the university to lead the state, nation and world in delivering an “avant-garde curriculum that takes advantage of contemporary technology.”

“We are at a time when the need for a new facility could not be greater — educationally, scientifically,” he said.

With renowned faculty and top-quality students, Letendre said, the college’s physical facilities are its only limitation. When the new building goes up, he said, that barrier will come down.

“And we’ll be able to achieve even greater things in the decades to come.”

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