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Arts organizations, many damaged in 2008, brace for flooding

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As Orchestra Iowa chief financial officer Kelley Cole helped pack up property at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids, she said she couldn’t believe the city is facing another major flood.

“It’s nauseating,” she said. “Some of us were here for it last time.”

The theater, which faced major flood damage during the Floods of 2008 when eight feet of water filled the main level, also houses Orchestra Iowa. The building, 123 Third Ave. SE, underwent extensive renovations and reopened in 2012.

Staff are worried about damage to the basement and auditorium, Cole said.

“Our seating is under street level. We’re moving stuff up and hoping for a better weather forecast,” she said.

They were moving things to the upper floors and creating a contingency plan in case they need to move out, as well as making plans to move the historic Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, which was reinstalled in 2013. The original console was destroyed in 2008 when water covered the theater’s stage, and the 1,300 pipes were shipped to Nevada to be cleaned and restored.

Staff said they feel much more prepared than they did eight years ago. Offices now are on the third floor, unlike in 2008, making the moving process much easier.

“As an organization, we’ve done as much as we can to pre-emptively prepare for this,” said Orchestra Iowa chief development officer Darcy Caraway.

Weekend shows at the Paramount, including the Fab Four today and Ole & Lena on Sunday, have been postponed. Chamber concerts scheduled for today and Saturday in the Opus Concert Cafe and Sunday in Coralville have been postponed, and Orchestra Iowa School activities are canceled Sunday through Tuesday.

Shows at Theatre Cedar Rapids such as “Sister Act” and “Studio Cabaret” will be canceled Sunday, according to its Facebook page. However, Executive Director Casey Prince does not anticipate flood problems at the Theatre Cedar Rapids building.

In 2008, floodwaters came up from the basement at the rather than through the front doors. The theater, 102 Third St. SE, has updated its plumbing systems since then, and Prince hopes that will mitigate the risk. He said staff are going through emergency plans and keeping an eye on the crest projections.

Of greatest concern, he said, is making sure the electricity transformers are out of harm’s way. In 2008, a lot of damage to the building was caused by mold and mildew that grew after the power went out. The theater reopened in 2010.

The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, 410 Third Ave. SE, also has installed flood mitigation systems since 2008, when sewage backup caused damages, executive director Sean Ulmer said. During its last capital campaign, from 2013 to 2014, the museum installed backflow protection valves in two galleries and have plans in place for the server and security in case of power loss.

Volunteers and staff moved first floor office supplies at CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE, to the second floor. Ron Lewis showed up to help because he had worked on restorations to the building after 2008 as an employee of Ryan Companies. “I did flood recovery right up until I retired,” he said. “It sucks. Now we’re facing this again; it’s terrible.”

At the Cherry Building, 329 10th Ave. SE, a host of volunteers helped artists move out of their studios and helped organizations such as the Ceramics Center move equipment and supplies from the basement and first floor.

Volunteer Shirley Harris carried art supplies to a waiting truck without even knowing the name of the person she was helping. It just seemed important to get involved, she said. She lives in an apartment on Ellis Boulevard, in the projected flood zone.

“We’ve figured out our escape route, but we’re on the third floor, so we’re not too stressed,” she said. “I’m a new resident, I just moved here a month ago, and I decided I need to help.”

Some Ceramics Center supplies were being moved to higher floors, while others were being stored in individual homes.

Volunteer John MacDonald was contemplating how to raise seven electric kilns on the first floor and lamenting the fact that several gas-fired kilns won’t be able to be moved.

He also was thinking about his other properties — he owns houses in the Time Check neighborhood that he helped rebuild after 2008 Floods.

“Now we’re going to lose them again,” he said.

The Friends of the Cedar Rapids Public Library also were moving about 60,000 books out of the Cherry Building’s basement. The volunteer response was so overwhelming, they were done packing books by 9:30 a.m. Thursday and were able to redirect volunteers to help other businesses.

“It made me a little tearful, it felt so good,” organization director Cindy Monroe said. “It felt like, it’s going to be OK.”

Monroe said CRST provided two trucks to store the books, and she praised Coe College and area high school students who helped.

Volunteer Chris Wrightlind said, as horrible as the prospect of another flood is, the silver lining is the way the community has banded together.

“If anything, this shows the best of America in this horrible political climate. It’s nice seeing people working together and cooperating and coming together,” she said.

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.

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