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IOWA CITY — In discussing plans over the next decade for their campus, University of Iowa officials disclosed Wednesday they intend to buy the Old Capitol Town Center, a downtown Iowa City mall opened in 1981 just south of the Pentacrest that already houses many campus programs.
The UI also revealed its 10-year plans include selling its 109-year-old downtown Jefferson Building, modernizing its student memorial union, replace the union’s parking ramp and upgrading its athletics facilities. Athletics upgrades include an already-announced $20 million stand-alone Hawkeye wrestling facility, a $9 million women’s gymnastics and spirit squad training center and improvements to its baseball facilities.
Main campus upgrades involve modernization and renovation of buildings on its famed Pentacrest; repurposing its art building for administrative use; expanding its Tippie College of Business; and relocating multicultural, international and LGBTQ resource centers to a park adjacent the Iowa Memorial Union.
In anticipation of the Board of Regents’ consideration of the UI’s 10-year master plan — which regents gave permission to proceed with Wednesday — UI Health Care last week announced its own long-term construction intentions, including a new patient tower, academic building and clinic on its Iowa City main campus.
In justifying those plans before the board Wednesday, UI Hospitals and Clinics Chief Executive Officer Suresh Gunasekaran said more than 44 percent of its 848 beds will become obsolete without modernization or renovation. Meanwhile, he said, the state will need UIHC to grow by 400-plus beds to keep up with its residents’ increasingly complex health care needs.
Currently, Gunasekaran said, UIHC is already 80 beds shy of enabling it to accept all the patients needing to be seen at UIHC — the state’s only academic medical center.
“Just today, in our COVID Emergency Response Team meeting, we were discussing the 45 high-level, high-priority transfers that are awaiting from other Iowa hospitals that we need to get in today,” Gunasekaran said. “We have a plan to get in about 15 of them. And we're making exceptional efforts to get in about another 15. But that will still leave 15 that will definitely not get in today, and we'll wait for tomorrow.”
Those, he said, are just the high-priority patient transfers.
“There's another 10 to 20 that are lesser-priority that are sitting behind this that we have already told, ‘There is no chance that we can take the transfer,’” Gunasekaran said.
Last fall, responding to needs for UIHC to expand, the regents approved UIHC’s plans to build a new $395 million, 469,000-square-foot hospital and clinics facility in North Liberty.
Designs and budgets for the newly approved UIHC projects are in the works, although Gunasekaran said they could take a decade or more to realize.
UIHC and main campus administrators told regents Wednesday they plan to bring back updates and requests regarding specific projects as they materialize — noting funding sources will include donations, state partnering allocations and other campus funds.
In justifying much of the planned main campus upgrades, UI Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz said the work aims to eliminate deferred maintenance costs and “right size” the campus, which has lost enrollment in recent years.
“We're very proud that we have, over the last five years … removed over 200,000 square feet of obsolete, antiquated space on main campus,” Lehnertz said.
In that vein, UI also is planning to raze several buildings in the coming years — including its Westlawn student health and wellness building and Halsey Hall.
Explaining plans to take over the Old Capitol Town Center, which once included J.C. Penney and Younkers as anchors, Lehnertz said the UI currently is 62 percent owner of the mall and has contractual rights to purchase it outright in 2024-2025.
“So given the immediate proximity to the Pentacrest … and how since 2008 this building has become a second center of activity for our students,” Lehnertz said, "we will continue to modernize the building to serve our students’ needs on campus and look for those arrangements with the developer to transfer ownership to the university.”
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