No state support would delay University of Iowa upgrades, improvements

$50-plus million library project could be put on hold

Study desks are lined up down the center on the 4th floor of the University of Iowa Main Library in Iowa City on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Study desks are lined up down the center on the 4th floor of the University of Iowa Main Library in Iowa City on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

If the Iowa Legislature takes Gov. Kim Reynold’s suggestion they turn down new capital improvement requests from the state’s public universities, University of Iowa — for one — will delay $50-plus million in planned improvements to its main library, pitched among its top facility priorities.

UI planned to ask for $52 million in state funding to continue its main library renovation — which would extend its “highly successful” first-floor learning commons to upper floors and address the aging building’s deferred maintenance needs. As part of its 2019 legislative funding request, the university asked for $15.6 million of that $50-plus million total, and it planned to ask for $26 million in 2020 and $10.4 million in 2021, according to regent documents.

But Reynolds, who in response to a budget shortfall has proposed taking back $5.1 million of already-committed support from Board of Regents universities in the current year, suggested lawmakers deny support for specific projects on the UI, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa campuses — at least for next year.

“If delayed due to a lack of state support, those deferred maintenance costs will escalate considerably in future years.”

- Jeneane Beck

University of Iowa spokeswoman

“If state funding is not available, that project will be delayed indefinitely and moved to future years when funding sources can be identified,” UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck told The Gazette about the main library renovation.

Reynolds also suggested zero funding for Iowa State’s new veterinary diagnostic center in 2019, despite a request for $20 million, and zero of UNI’s $2.1 million request in 2019 to modernize its technology center.

The governor’s budget proposal recommended supporting just $3 million of the universities’ combined $20 million request to address growing deferred maintenance needs.

Lawmakers have yet to take up the governor’s higher education funding proposals, although Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, has suggested changing the way the state responds to university building requests — scaling back future support from its Rebuilding Iowa Infrastructure Fund.

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UI officials have argued that postponing deferred maintenance — like nearly $30 million in improvements needed for its main library — won’t save the state money.

“This is the largest deferred maintenance need of any building on the UI campus,” Beck said in an email to The Gazette. “If delayed due to a lack of state support, those deferred maintenance costs will escalate considerably in future years.”

The UI main library — which was built in 1951 and now serves upward of 1 million visitors a year — is the largest academic building on campus, with more than 427,000 square feet served largely by most of its original aging systems.

The university already invested more than $21 million in non-state-appropriated funds to update portions of its library — including a state-of-the-art learning commons on the first floor, renovations on the fifth floor, and a new 60,000-square-foot off-site warehouse for library volumes.

The university had considered linking a new UI Museum of Art with the main library, as it is planned for an adjacent lot. But the two projects will remain unrelated, according to Beck, who said the $50 million museum is on track to go out for bid in late May with construction beginning in the summer.

That 63,000-square-foot facility slated on a parcel of UI-owned land south of the library, is expected to wrap in 2020. Its funding is coming from a mix of private donations and bonds.

UI officials in September told the Board of Regents — in presenting a five-year state capital request plan — they also hoped to ask for $67.5 million between 2020 and 2023 to renovate three Pentacrest buildings and $20.8 million in 2022 and 2023 for an entrepreneurial collaboration center.

Last week, in response to the prospect of no 2019 funding for Iowa State’s proposed $124 million expansion and renovation of its veterinary diagnostic lab, new ISU President Wendy Wintersteen said on Iowa Public TV’s Iowa Press she’s not ready to concede and wants to continue the conversation.

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“This is a facility that supports all of Iowa, it’s not just about Iowa State,” she said.

The university is seeking $100 million of the total project cost in state appropriations — with $20 million installments between 2019 and 2023. Wintersteen said the governor has included $20 million for the lab in her preliminary 2020 budget.

“So we have our toe in the door,” she said. “And certainly we’re going to be asking every legislator to come and tour the facility so they can see the issues with biosecurity, they can see the issues with space, the outdated HVAC system and they can understand the 86,000 samples that come into that facility and why it’s so important we have the rapid turnaround.”

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