Education

New University of Iowa Brain Sciences Building a long time coming

$33.5 million project provides space for popular psychology programs

Kent Clark, from the University of Iowa Center for Advancement, gives introductory remarks Friday at the dedication of t
Kent Clark, from the University of Iowa Center for Advancement, gives introductory remarks Friday at the dedication of the new Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences Building on the UI campus. The $33.5 million building will provide classroom and lab space for psychology majors, one of the UI’s most popular fields of study. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Five years after the Board of Regents rejected a University of Iowa request to renovate its antiquated Seashore Hall — which housed one of its largest undergraduate departments — the campus on Friday finally realized its dream of a modern home for the Psychological and Brain Sciences.

In dedicating the new $33.5 million Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences Building, the university introduced its first centralized home for the popular department, which boasts 1,200 psychology majors, 500 minors and 200-plus undergraduates conducting research in its labs.

Before now, the largest department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was dispersed among three buildings — Spence Laboratories of Psychology, Stuit Hall and Seashore, built in 1899 as the campus’ first hospital.

The psychology department was assigned space in Seashore in 1930, with administrators long appealing for a more adequate environment.

After breaking ground on the six-story, 66,470-square-foot building east of Spence Labs, UI President Bruce Harreld in 2018 didn’t mince words.

“I say this with humor, but I actually at times do worry about where the cockroaches and other rodents are going to go,” Harreld said, referencing the dilapidated Seashore. “This is how bad we have let things get.”

With the university pushing a renewed emphasis on neuroscience — creating the Iowa Neuroscience Institute in 2016 and introducing an undergraduate major in neuroscience in 2017 — the department’s first centralized home is expected to “transform teaching and research.”

It will, according to UI officials, “position the university to better prepare students for learning modern psychology, and finding jobs in the field.”

The building is a long time coming, with the university in September 2014 pitching a $27 million project that would have modernized portions of Seashore Hall and eliminated outdated components.

Regents Milt Dakovich and Larry McKibben criticized that proposal as fixing something “broken and old,” prompting the university to return years later with an amended pitch.

Crews broke ground on the new Psychological and Brain Sciences Building in October 2017, and some administrators began using it this month, according to spokesman Richard Lewis.

In conjunction with the project, the university is razing Seashore Hall, work that started in 2000 with the structurally deficient southwest wing. The Board of Regents in 2016 approved razing the southeast section.

Then in September 2019, regents approved the third and final razing of Seashore, allowing crews to take down the remaining 128,000 square feet deemed “inadequate to serve the teaching and research missions of current occupants.”

By razing the space, UI officials projected saving $27.8 million in deferred maintenance costs. The $2.8 million to demolish Seashore is coming from Treasurer’s Temporary Investment Income.

The university is tapping that source and a combination of others, including gifts and earnings, to cover the cost of the new building.

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The UI Center for Advancement reported the university set no public fundraising goal for the project and has raised about $500,000 to date.

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

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