Education

University of Iowa looking to buy more North Liberty land

Plans for land aren't clear, but UI seeking regents approval for purchase

Cars travel east on Forevergreen Road, which is the border between North Liberty and Coralville, on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. The University of Iowa owns this land and is looking to buy more adjacent acreage. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Cars travel east on Forevergreen Road, which is the border between North Liberty and Coralville, on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. The University of Iowa owns this land and is looking to buy more adjacent acreage. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa, which for nearly a decade has owned 38 acres of vacant land in North Liberty, wants to add to that total by spending nearly $2.2 million on about 22 adjacent acres — although its plans for that 60 total undeveloped acres remain unclear.

The university is asking the Board of Regents next week to approve the $2.18 million purchase from Parkview Evangelical Free Church, which currently owns the property. The university would pay for it using “temporary investment income,” according to board documents.

Two appraisals valued the land at $2.31 per square foot — totaling the $2.2 million. That’s below what the university in 2010 paid for the adjacent 38 acres — at $7.08 per square foot.

The new property includes three contiguous parcels of land — all along the western edge of the property the university already owns on the southwest corner of Forevergreen Road and Highway 965. A sign on that corner long has asserting a UI Health Care facility is “coming soon.”

UIHC officials have not answered questions about what it has planned for that site, and North Liberty Mayor Terry Donahue previously told The Gazette he’s frustrated with the university’s opaqueness — especially given recent growth in that area.

A new Hy-Vee debuted a year ago 500 feet from the vacant land, and a new Forevergreen Road exit off I-380 that passes right by the untapped property just opened.

Donahue told The Gazette on Wednesday he views the university’s pursuit of the long-empty land as a good sign it finally will move forward in developing the property.

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“If the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics wants to do something there … we will work with them any way we can,” he said. “I get the sense the hospital and administration is trying to move forward with plans once again.”

Donahue said he has no direct knowledge of the university’s purchase or development plans but hopes they have something in mind.

“I would think if the university is taking the stance of buying additional land, they have something they’re thinking of already,” he said. “So we’ll be watching and waiting to see if something happens.”

Although the UI purchase request doesn’t spell out in any detail plans for the land, it does say the new acres “would allow for future programming and provide a secondary access to the existing 38 acres.”

Both UI President Bruce Harreld and UI Hospitals and Clinics CEO Suresh Gunasekaran recently verbalized the need for physical growth of the main campus and its clinics — with patient totals growing, taxing facility and staff resources.

Next week, at the same time regents will be considering this purchase proposal, UI Health Care officials will include in their regular presentation data on continued patient growth. The average midnight census for the hospital among adults, for example, has reached 580 — up from 483 in 2014.

Emergency department census growth has surged 38 percent during that period, and general care patient totals has increased 25 percent, according to the board report. Total surgical cases have jumped from 29,958 in 2015 to 34,736 in 2019.

Gynecology, neurosurgery, and dentistry have seen some of the biggest surgical growth — with the university taking steps to increase capacity, including opening two additional operating rooms and extending operating room hours.

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The university recently requested bids from consultants charged with identifying “opportunities for increasing functional capacity in the UIHC operative suites” through optimized processes, improved efficiency, and increased throughput.

The Board of Regents next week additionally will consider UIHC requests to expand its heart and vascular cath labs, expand its observation unit, and spend $4 million to upgrade its main operating room building controls and telecom room — in addition to a main campus maintenance project expected to cost $4.4 million. That work comes on top of many other ongoing upgrades across the UIHC enterprise.

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

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