Education

University of Iowa envisions restoring iconic Pentacrest, asks state for $88.7 million to fund it

$88.7M project would return focus of buildings to classrooms

The Pentacrest at the University of Iowa includes the Old Capitol (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right) and MacLean Hall (bottom right). (The Gazette)
The Pentacrest at the University of Iowa includes the Old Capitol (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right) and MacLean Hall (bottom right). (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa wants lawmakers to provide $88.7 million to help modernize the “heart of our campus” by returning the century-old buildings on its iconic Pentacrest to their academic use.

The Board of Regents is set next week to consider asking lawmakers to approve funding for that UI request — along with other facility projects across its campuses — during the upcoming legislative session that starts in January.

State support for regent building projects — often coming from gambling revenue — is separate from the general education appropriations for Iowa’s public universities.

UI officials, in making the pitch for five years of funding for the Pentacrest revitalization, called the request a “re-activation” of support committed in 2007.

At that time, lawmakers approved $13 million in bonding authority to restore Macbride Hall, erected in 1908; MacLean Hall, built in 1912; and Jessup Hall, dating to 1924 — the three Pentacrest fixtures the UI wants to restore now.

Devastating flooding in 2008 derailed the 2007 commitment as administrators diverted the money to other parts of campus needing immediate and immense help, board documents show.

Now that much of the UI’s flood recovery is complete — with its Stanley Museum of Art still left to cap the decadelong recovery — the aging Pentacrest demands attention, according to UI officials. They want to start with the 107-year-old MacLean Hall.

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“Now that our final flood recovery project has begun, we can shift our focus to how we can better serve the needs of our students by returning the most centrally located buildings on our campus to academic space and student-oriented functions,” Rod Lehnertz, senior vice president for finance and operations, said in a statement.

“These buildings are historic in nature and are extremely valuable to the university,” he said. “They’re keepers, and you want to put the programs back into buildings that belong there long-term.”

The Pentacrest includes four “monumental limestone halls” organized around the Old Capitol, which became the university’s first permanent building in 1857 when the state Legislature relocated from Iowa City to Des Moines. The building, a national historic landmark, was badly damaged in a high-profile fire in 2001 but restored in line with its original design.

Schaeffer Hall — the oldest Old Capitol companion — opened in 1902 and bears the name of the seventh UI president, Charles A. Shaeffer, who was credited with envisioning the Pentacrest layout. That structure was remodeled in 1998.

The other three halls have seen few upgrades since they opened more than 100 years ago.

Macbride houses among the largest classrooms on campus and the oldest university museum west of the Mississippi River, according to the UI Office of Strategic Communication. Jessup houses most of the UI’s administrative offices, along with many student transactional functions.

Thus, in tandem with the Pentacrest renovations, the university is committing $30 million to renovate the University Capital Center, Calvin Hall, the Jefferson Building and other spaces to house relocated administrative offices, student transaction functions, and support services.

The $88.7 million for the Pentacrest halls would go toward improving access; upgrading classrooms to current standards; installing new lighting and energy-efficient electrical systems; and replacing inadequate and inefficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

The modernization would move the three buildings from being 67 percent classrooms to 100 percent academic spaces, and correct safety deficiencies, improve restrooms and refurbish exteriors.

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In the 2019 budget year, the buildings’ deferred maintenance costs reached $30 million. Due to continued deterioration, those costs are projected to top $44 million in the next decade if not upgraded, officials said.

“It is possible to continue to defer renewal, maintenance, and upgrades; however, doing so would be a costly, short-term solution for some of the most significant buildings on our campus,” Lehnertz said.

If approved, design work could start as soon as next fall with visible construction beginning in late 2021. Completion for the entire project could take a decade. But Lehnertz said the investment could extend the buildings’ academic usefulness another 80 years.

“The Pentacrest is the heart of our campus, and academics are the core of our mission,” UI Executive Vice President and Provost Montserrat Fuentes said in a statement. “Investing in these buildings means we will be able to serve more students in a central location, and that is an investment in student success.”

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

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