University of Iowa eyes new, upgraded campus signs

Budget, timeline unclear as officials 'not yet committed' to project

The University of Iowa is interested in replacing many existing signs on campus with better wayfinding signage including
The University of Iowa is interested in replacing many existing signs on campus with better wayfinding signage including some that are illuminated. But the UI said it has not committed to the expense. (University of Iowa)

IOWA CITY — With its metaphorical eyes focused on the physical campus experience many students, faculty and staff have been missing, the University of Iowa has initiated a broad upgrade for its building and communitywide signage.

With a call for proposals from suppliers, the university last week expressed interest in removing signs and replacing them with, in some cases, illuminated concrete-based ones.

UI drawings show the interest in a range of new signs — including those labeling academic buildings, facility complexes, structures like parking ramps and walkways. They also would give broader directions, pointing commuters or pedestrians toward downtown or the health care campus, for example.

Sketches propose signs that vary in height, style and size — with some backlit and standing 6 to 7 feet; others meant for drivers rising 15 feet; and those aimed at pedestrians reaching 3 and 6 feet.

“Signage will be placed across the Iowa City/Coralville area,” said the call for proposals, which set a July 15 deadline for responses.

But the UI said despite the proposal, the campus has “not yet committed to moving forward with this project.”

“To that end, there is no projected budget or timeline for this potential project due to the fluid circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett.


If the project does move forward, she said, it would involve updating 10 to 12 signs along the T. Anne Cleary Walkway. That is a more narrow scope than suggested in the UI’s request.

The request comes at a fiscally challenging time for the campus, which is facing coronavirus-related losses and expenses topping $70 million through August; projected drops in enrollment, affecting tuition revenue; and cuts in state funding.

The losses have forced colleges across the UI campus to impose budget-cutting measures, including eliminating positions and people, canceling planned pay raises, enabling furloughs and cutting salaries.

The university — like most others — also is the midst of planning for an unprecedented fall semester back on campus after deciding in mid-March to finish the spring semester online.

Many students, faculty and staff have expressed interest in returning to campus, but — for safety reasons — the university is preparing for a hybrid instructional model that will keep large lectures online, use many of its more expansive spaces differently and rely more heavily on technology.

The university is planning on ramping up its COVID-19-specific signage across campus — including reminders to wear face coverings, wash hands and limit occupancy according to social distancing guidelines.

Although officials didn’t outline when specifically they would hope to erect the new building and directional signage, the proposed bid agreement would run an initial three years and have five options for one-year extensions.

Although they didn’t elaborate on cost expectations, the UIO’s request for proposals stipulated, “No orders over $100,000 will be allowed under this agreement.”


The UI in September selected a contractor to erect “gateway” monuments at entrance points to campus. It planned to pay for the first of the 13-foot granite structures with a $100,000 gift from Rand and Mary Louise Petersen, a former regent president also honored in the naming of UI Petersen Residence Hall.

But UI spokeswoman Bassett said Monday the campus in October put that project on hold “for the foreseeable future.”

“The university’s Campus Planning Team is currently working on a wayfinding plan that includes evaluating all campus entry points,” she said. “There is no timeline for the completion of the plan or when a decision will be made on if the project moves forward.”

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