The situation was ominous: the Iowa River that divides the University of Iowa campus was rising, the forecast called for rain, and it was Friday the 13th. Things couldn’t have been more precarious that day in June as campus leaders prepared for the worst, fortifying sandbag walls, suspending classes, rescheduling orientation sessions, ordering building evacuations, and asking many employees to stay home.
Though it seemed doubtful at the time, fall classes started on schedule and none were canceled. For the latest news on flood recovery, see www.uiowa.edu/floodrecovery.
Thanks to thousands of volunteers who turned out to perform the laborious tasks of filling and tying sandbags and to form assembly lines to clear some 10,000 feet of shelf space at the Main Library, significant UI property was saved.
Officials estimate that 100,000 sandbags per day were filled on campus, with the highest sandbag wall topping nine feet. Although the floodwaters inevitably breached the levees—the river crested three feet higher than it did in 1993—the volunteer effort wasn’t for naught.
“This work paid off for us,” says Dan Heater, director of building services and landscape services for Facilities Management, noting that the levees stanched the rapid flow of the water and prevented additional building damage. “We believe it’s going to save the University millions of dollars.”
Ultimately, the University donated 250,000 sandbags to communities in need downstream.
When the water started to recede, leaving behind 20 muck-filled buildings—including the new Art Building West (below) and Mayflower, the largest of the residence halls—University officials moved quickly, dispatching cleanup crews and securing temporary space.
Although the flood caused an estimated $231 million in damages, Don Guckert, associate vice president and director of Facilities Management, says rehabilitating existing facilities is worth it.
“While the damage we sustained was monumental, it’s but a fraction of what these buildings are worth,” he explains. “To build in new locations would carry a cost that would stagger you. It is many times over what it will cost to put them back in operation and mitigate future flood risks.”
Nearly a dozen buildings remain closed.
And the not-so-ugly.
The hard-hit arts campus has been dried out and cleaned, but much work must be done before the buildings can open. In the meantime, affected academic units have relocated: