UI ready to reopen Art Building West

The building will hold classes this spring semester for the first time since the flood

The University of Iowa may be moving back into the flood-damaged Art Building West on Friday, December 16, 2011. (Cliff
The University of Iowa may be moving back into the flood-damaged Art Building West on Friday, December 16, 2011. (Cliff Jette/SourceMedia Group)

The Art Library website perhaps best expresses the collective feeling of University of Iowa School of Art and Art History faculty, staff and students who are moving back into Art Building West for the spring semester, more than three years after it was knocked out of commission by the 2008 flood.

“Yippee!” the library site declares about the move back into the Steven Holl-designed building on Riverside Drive.

“Which is basically the whole feeling,” Art Librarian Rijn Templeton said this week while tidying her Art West office. “We figured we’d have a little fun during the move.”

Numerous UI facilities reopened in the months immediately following the June 2008 flood when building repairs could be made in shorter time, including Mayflower Residence Hall, the Adler Journalism and Mass Communication Building and the English-Philosophy Building.

But the reopening of Art West for spring semester marks completion of the first major campus building that was “really put out of commission” by the flood, Senior Vice President for Finance Doug True said. Movers this week stacked boxes in faculty offices and lined books on the Art Library shelves. The building will hold classes this spring semester, starting Jan. 17, for the first time since the flood.

“In some ways it is bigger than a new building opening because it’s sort of an old friend and you’re meeting again, going to a class reunion,” True said. “And it is a stunning building. A lot of us have forgotten what a great building it is.”

Final cost of the Art West repair came to $14.2 million, under the $14.8 million estimate due to lower construction bids, True said.

Much of that cost covered the “invisible” flood wall. The removable, 900-foot flood wall around the building is designed to be built in two to three days but can go up quicker and is based on concepts used in many European cities, True said. UI officials expect to use similar invisible flood walls to protect the Iowa Memorial Union and Iowa Advanced Technology Labs on the other side of the Iowa River.

Total damage, recovery and mitigation costs at the UI from the flood could hit almost $1 billion, much of which will be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurance.

The three major building replacement projects after the flood — Hancher Auditorium, the School of Music and the Studio Arts building — are all in the design phase and have been for months. It’s possible designs for those new buildings will be unveiled soon, within a few months, True said, but it’s not yet known if designs will go to the state Board of Regents for the February meeting.

At Art West, a moving truck parked outside this week was proof that life will return to normal in that building in a few weeks.

The art history faculty offices and art history classes will be back in Art West, as will classes in graphic design and some in photography and painting. The Art Library also returns from its temporary home at the Main Library. Nothing should be noticeably different at Art West since the flood, when water filled about 4 feet on the main level.

“They’re pretty much trying to put it back the way it was,” Pat Arkema, administrator for the School of Art and Art History said.

The art history faculty was housed temporarily at Seashore hall and many of the studio classes displaced from Art West were held at the Studio Arts facility, in the former Menards on Highway 1. Some studio programs will remain at Studio Arts while a new building is constructed near Art West. That new Studio Art building is slated for completion in April 2016.

A Cambus shuttle will ferry students on the 10-minute trip between Art West and the Studio Arts building on Highway 1 West, where many of the studio art classes will remain.

Many current art students had never been in Art West, which was only about 2 years old when the flood hit, so it was fun to see reactions at an open house held last month, Robert Bork, associate professor and head of the art history division, said.

“They couldn’t believe it because they’ve gotten used to us kind of being the gypsy department,” he said.

Being back in the building means having the Art Library and its 135,000 book collection within steps again, Bork said. It also means seeing colleagues and students from graphic design, photography and painting in the hallways rather than being scattered around campus, he said.“I think probably the biggest thing is it’s going to be a home where faculty and students will all feel that we belong as a place,” Bork said.

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