When University of Iowa officials chose Wednesday to hold an outdoor celebration of the university’s recovery since the flood of 2008, they really didn’t have to worry about the weather.
“We figured we couldn’t lose today,” joked Rod Lehnertz, UI’s senior vice president. “If it would rain, we’d all say, 'Isn’t that fitting after the flood of 2008.'”
But Wednesday’s unseasonably warm and humid weather reminded Lehnertz more of the days immediately after the flood “when everyone had to get to work and clean up the campus.”
In the days before the Iowa River reached flood stage in June 2008, thousands of volunteers had come out daily to fill sandbags and make other preparations at the UI Main Library, Hancher Auditorium, the UI School of Music, the old Art Building, the UI Museum of Art and other sites.
The flooding of the river that year largely had come from rain upstream, and the weather in Iowa City — except for the impending natural disaster — had been quite pleasant at times for the volunteers.
After the floodwaters crested, however, Lehnertz said the weather and momentum changed and only hundreds of volunteers came out daily to help university faculty, staff and students remove the barriers, clear the streets of debris and start washing down the buildings.
“And, yes, it was this warm,” Lehnertz said Wednesday. “So, yeah, I suppose it’s fitting.”
Wednesday’s celebration on the UI Pentacrest was in honor all of those volunteers who responded to the university’s call in 2008, Lehnertz said.
“One of the things we intended by this was a celebration to allow us to look back and to thank the hundreds, the thousands that really gave it their all to help protect and then to recover the campus,” Lehnertz said. “Many, many unsung heroes and each with their own story.”
The event also honored all the work done in the past eight years to recover spaces on campus that had been lost to floodwaters, especially the three replacement buildings to be opened this year: the new UI School of Music, the new Visual Arts Building and the new Hancher Auditorium.
Recovery efforts over the past eight years have been slowed on campus as university officials have worked over the past eight years with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provided recovery or relocation funding for most of the larger projects.
As of April 30, the total amount spent on flood recovery costs at UI is more than $621 million, according to Iowa Board of Regents documents.
That amount includes $289.9 million for Hancher and the School of Music; $67.6 million for the Art Building and replacement; $51.5 million for temporary locations; $38 million for debris removal; $34.9 million for utility plans and systems; $30 million for the Iowa Memorial Union; $24.3 million for the Iowa Advanced Teaching Laboratories; $14.4 million for emergency measures; $13.7 million for Mayflower Hall; $11 million for the Theatre Building; $10.3 million for Art Building West; $5.7 million for Adler, Becker and the English-Philosophy Building; $2 million for the Museum of Art; $9.8 million for other restoration projects; and $17.7 million for other projects.
FEMA eventually denied relocation funding for the UI Museum of Art. University officials are moving forward with constructing a new facility of the museum near the UI Main Library.
Except for the museum replacement project, Lehnertz described the university as been all but "fully recovered" from the flood.
“Because of this event, we’re able now to just look forward, and that’s the intent,” Lehnertz said. “We’ll look toward the Sept. 9 (open of Hancher), which will be sort of the ceremonial kickoff for a fall full of celebration. Not only for the recovery projects, but for the Children’s Hospital and the groundbreaking of the new Pharmacy Building. Those are projects we’ll look forward to celebrating.”
UI officials have been working with Iowa City officials to have Clinton Street renamed “Inspiration Avenue” for the 2016-17 academic year.