Education

New home arises for University of Iowa psychology programs

Ceremony shows no love lost for decrepit facility nearby

A crane is parked between Seashore Hall (left) and the new Psychological and Brain Sciences Building construction site (right) at a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for the University of Iowa Psychological and Brain Sciences Building in Iowa City. The building is being constructed near Seashore Hall, a former hospital that originally was built in 1899 and will be demolished as part of the construction project. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
A crane is parked between Seashore Hall (left) and the new Psychological and Brain Sciences Building construction site (right) at a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for the University of Iowa Psychological and Brain Sciences Building in Iowa City. The building is being constructed near Seashore Hall, a former hospital that originally was built in 1899 and will be demolished as part of the construction project. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — None of the University of Iowa dignitaries who spoke at Monday’s groundbreaking for a new Psychological and Brain Sciences building minced words about the department’s need for a new home.

“I say this with humor, but I actually at times do worry about where the cockroaches and other rodents are going to go,” UI President Bruce Harreld said during the ceremony, held just west of Seashore Hall, the current dilapidated home of the UI Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “This is how bad we have let things get. And I pledge, as a pretty important leader of this institution, not to let us get to this point again.”

After decades of dreaming and designing and revamping plans to replace the historic Seashore — which housed Iowa’s first medical teaching hospital before anchoring its psychological and brain sciences in the 1920s — crews began building its successor a year ago in October 2017.

Having run into obstacle after obstacle before finally awarding a bid, the project just survived a five-month building moratorium enacted in April after state lawmakers earlier this year delivered a second round of midyear cuts to public higher education.

The 66,470-square-foot, six-story facility will cater to the department’s trifecta of teaching, research and service. It will boast 14 state-of-the-art labs, along with a student commons, offices, classrooms and a lecture hall — breathing new life into a department officials said has continued to thrive despite being in the campus’ “white elephant.”

“Seashore Hall was considered a white elephant 90 years ago,” UI professor and department chair Mark Blumberg said during the ceremony. “For those of you that don’t know what a white elephant is, it’s a possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of.”

The construction project is budgeted to cost $33.5 million, with an anticipated completion date in January 2020.

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With cranes humming behind the ceremony, one psychology student — Samantha Stoll — praised her UI experience and the programming that inspired her to pursue a career in child behavior and treatment.

“The psychology program here at Iowa has truly benefited me, but I have done all of this in the past four years kind of avoiding Seashore Hall at all costs,” she said. “Everyone has kind of talked about their experience in the building, what it’s like not having common student spaces. And I can agree to that, and also not agree to that, because I haven’t been in the building to notice that.”

Stoll said she’s jealous of the students to come after her — those who will have a place to bounce ideas off peers, to collaborate, to explore together and to compel world-renowned research.

“It is impossible for me to overestimate the significance of this new building for the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences,” Blumberg said. “And I can guarantee on behalf of all the faculty, staff and students in the department that we are going to make the most out of this opportunity.”

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

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