Un-Natural Disasters +5: U of Iowa's recovery taking shape - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Un-Natural Disasters +5: U of Iowa's recovery taking shape

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In June of 2008, the Iowa River crested at levels never before seen, destroying two University of Iowa buildings beyond recovery and damaging 20 others. In June of 2008, the Iowa River crested at levels never before seen, destroying two University of Iowa buildings beyond recovery and damaging 20 others.
IOWA CITY (KWWL) -

In June of 2008, the Iowa River crested at levels never before seen, destroying two University of Iowa buildings beyond recovery and damaging 20 others.

Yet in spite of it all, the university closed for only one week.

Now, five years later recovery is finally beginning to take shape.

Every project starts with a plan. Each takes precision, patience, and perseverance.

And as University of Iowa art students and staff have learned, any successful undertaking requires flexibility.

"Adaptability is the key," said Steve McGuire, school of art and art history professor.

Nobody could have imagined that five years after the flood, students like Andi Hemauer would be studying in a converted Menards warehouse far from campus.

"I wish the facilities would be a little better and on campus, but it is what it is," Hemauer said.

Not even university president Sally Mason could have predicted the magnitude of devastation.

"I know people were frustrated with a number that just kept getting bigger, but you really don't know until you get into those facilities, until you get into those utility tunnels, until you get into the power plant, that you begin to appreciate just how much damage was done on campus," she said.

The total cost of the university's flood recovery is now projected in the range of $1 billion -- a daunting amount.

"People come up to me and say, 'Oh you're over the flood.' No, no," Mason said. "We still have a lot of steps to take. We still have a lot of work to be done."

The Hancher Voxman-Clapp Complex and Art Building are damaged beyond repair and still await demolition.

This year's graduating class has never seen the bottom floors of the Iowa Memorial Union.

And art and music students continue to work out of temporary facilities.

But brighter days lie ahead.

The University hit a turning point reopening Art Building West in January of 2012.

It's the first major project to come back and now many more will soon begin.

"This is unprecedented for our campus, our state, and we'll never see that much work on this campus again," said Rod Lehnertz with University Iowa's Facilities Management.

The university is getting closer to the construction of its three replacement projects.

The centerpiece of its flood recovery, Hancher, a new School of Music building, and the new Art building will begin soon, costing close to $400 million.

"What we're going to see in the next four or five years will be transformational for our campus," Lehnertz said.

Just as important, officials are building to protect from future disasters.

The replacement projects will be built outside of the 500-year floodplain.

The arrangement with FEMA allows the university to protect its flood-prone areas up to two feet above 2008's flood level.

"We're very confident that we're at a whole different place than we were pre-2008. I wouldn't say I'd be inviting a 2008 flood to this campus, but there's no doubt that we will be better protected," Lehnertz said.

By 2016, the bulk of recovery will be done.

Future art students who follow Hemauer are expected to be in their new home on campus.

The university's vision that began eight years before will finally become reality -- a true work of art.

"I have to give our people great credit to understand there would be a bright side, and we simply had to work hard to get to that, and we're all starting to see that now, and it's exciting," Mason said.

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