Education

Iowa Regents to consider new construction moratorium

'There shall not be an increase in net square footage'

Work is seen underway at the University of Iowa Museum of Art construction site in Iowa City on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019.
Work is seen underway at the University of Iowa Museum of Art construction site in Iowa City on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — A new advisory group Iowa’s Board of Regents established in April to explore collaboration opportunities across its university system on a coronavirus-rushed timeline is recommending a temporary halt on all new capital projects that would increase a campus’ net square footage.

The moratorium, which the full Board of Regents will consider approving next week, would remain in effect through June 30, 2022, according to documents made public Tuesday.

“For all new capital projects, there shall not be an increase in net square footage as a result of the project,” according to the first — and so far only — recommendation from the new advisory group that Board President Mike Richards announced in April.

“We want to explore opportunities and look for solutions and greater collaborations across the universities,” Richards said at the time. “These are things that we and every higher-education system needed to consider before COVID-19. They are now things we must consider.”

Richards used, by way of example, expanded opportunities for students at one of Iowa’s public universities to take classes online from another.

“And we must look at whether administrative functions at all three universities can be consolidated,” he said in April. “We also need to consider whether to put a moratorium on new construction.”

In his spring comments, Richards charged the four-member regents advisory group to split into two parts — one looking at administrative efficiencies and another looking at academics.

“I am charging the advisory group with looking at administrative and academic collaborations and efficiencies, and providing recommendations for the full board to consider at the November meeting,” Richards said at the time.

Exceptions to the proposed construction moratorium would include projects and their future phases “currently approved or under construction.” The construction hold also would exclude health care facilities or projects funded entirely through private giving.

For other projects, including those requiring state support, campus administrators must prove how they comply with the moratorium.

“Change is hard, but it is necessary,” Richards said when announcing the advisory group in April. “We will adapt. We will adjust. We will continue to provide an affordable, accessible, high-quality education for our students.”

This week, a Board of Regents committee will consider its campuses’ annual facilities reports — including their six-year capital plans. Projects included in those plans largely have been approved, are under construction, or don’t increase the campus footprints — like the University of Iowa’s proposal to modernize its aging Pentacrest.

That $90.8 million project — which UI hopes to fund entirely through state appropriations — would “transform MacBride, MacLean and Jessup Halls from 67 percent to 100 percent classrooms and academic space.”

The project, according to UI officials, would eliminate about $27 million in deferred maintenance — an amount that could swell to $47 million in 10 years.

Among Iowa State’s biggest projects already approved or in the works are its $62.4 million Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory addition; its nearly $86 million Student Innovation Center; a $24 million Curtiss Farm-Feed Mill & Grain Science Complex; and its $22 million Hilton Coliseum expansion.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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