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Iowa Flood Stories 2008: Iowa City

posted on December 12, 2008 at 10:47 AM

Late in the summer, IPTV heard about a flood victim who said, "don't forget us." We haven't. Out and About Correspondent Dan Kaercher travels to places that flooded in the summer of 2008.

I'm at the north end of what's called the Arts Campus at the University of Iowa. The Iowa River goes by Hancher Auditorium here then continues south past six more buildings dedicated to teaching and showcasing the arts.

This was the arts campus during the June flood. Back then, at the same time people were sandbagging trying to prevent damage, others started moving “things” to higher ground in case the waters did come in.

At the two art buildings, one quite new, they moved boxes and boxes of thousands of valuable slides out of the water’s reach along with artists tools such as pottery wheels.

In the Theatre building, thousands of costumes and props were moved to the first floor, then again to the second floor when crest projections rose higher.

At Voxman music building, 10 grand pianos worth about $100,000 each were removed completel; instruments and sheet music, lots of both, were moved upstairs.

Much was saved, not everything, but a lot. Still, there was more to do. From the day the arts campus flooded, it was just ten weeks till the start of the fall semester. Faculty and students would need places to teach and learn. And structures like this new are building weren’t going to be usable.

This campus bus is sitting outside of what used to be an empty Menard’s because it’s now home to all the studio arts classes. Preparations for this change began on June 13, the day after Professor Steve McGuire was evacuated from his own home.

Steve McGuire, Professor, School of Art and Art History: "I'm most proud of the fact that the university saw from even, even the moment before the water crested that they were going to put back, in the fall, the entire studio program and art history for the School of Art and Art History. That's an unbelieveable committment on the part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the University given the scope of the program that we have.

The University didn’t do it alone though.

Steve McGuire, Professor, School of Art and Art History: "You don’t go from design to construction in 17 days and build a facility for a program as large as ours in 29 days without having a lot of dedication from a variety of people across the scope of what makes up Iowa City. ... We worked hand in hand with the city all along the process. ... The city gave us guidance on how we might interface in terms of phases of construction and inspection so that on the first day of school, inspection happened, and we were moving in. Incredible."

While buildings were being dried out and cleaned up on the Arts Campus, classes in the performing arts, music, theater, and dance, were moved to various buildings on campus and around town.

This is the JCL jazz band rehearsing at Trinity Episcopal Church.

A few blocks away, at the First Congregational Church, a bassoon trio plays.

And upstairs in a downtown commercial building called Brewery Square, students are attending acting classes.

To facilitate recovery and clean-up, people from different divisions and departments ended up working together for the good of the institution. For example, Senior Associate Director of Athletics, Jane Meyer, is helping the performing arts department manage its recovery.

Jane Meyer, Senior Associate Director of Athletics: "What I learned was I know the passion of our coaches. I see that everyday. I knew of passion, but I got to experience the passion of the faculty ... It was a very satisfying experience for me and so to know that, that is what continues to make our entire institution great that, that’s a lesson learned for me is that it exists across our campus."

Kayt Conrad, Director of Operations, Division of Performing Arts: "I’ve learned there is a lot more satisfaction out of small successes. ... Today was a really good day because the fire marshall came and said we could use our new practice rooms. That’s a really big deal. So, small, small victories are really huge things."

Alan MacVey, Director, Division of Performing Arts: "The biggest lesson of all was to heed the warning and we did and thank goodness that we did."

There have been some adjustments.

Alan MacVey, Director, Division of Performing Arts: "Well, we're sitting in a room over two restaurants and Devotay is one of them. And this room is made for acting and movement classes and so our first day as we got in here and people were moving around and jumping and doing all the things that they normally do and all the wine glasses downstairs started to fall off the shelves and they did. They broke. And we had several conversations with the lovely people who run Devotay."

Those classes found another home.

Then there’s Hancher Auditorium, Iowa’s performing arts center that has a national reputation for live performances and commissioning works.

Built in 1972, in the summer of 2007, Hancher celebrated its 35th year with a tour of Iowa by the Joffrey Ballet.

When we were there, Hancher was dark inside. There was no electricity, part of the stage floor was torn out, rows of seats were missing, and the lobby was part storage area.

Some performances are taking place in other venues, still others had to be cancelled, things like dance and broadway performances. But the head of Hancher is optimistic.

Chuck Swanson, Executive Director, Hancher: "I see this as a real opportunity to make Hancher even better than it was before."

That means making it better for artists and audiences. And while Hancher is out of commission for a while, they’ve adopted a theme that addresses that: “can’t contain us.”

Chuck Swanson, Executive Director, Hancher: "Hancher the building is very, very important and it's very symbolic for the university but over the years we have taken artists into the community, into the region, and in the last several years really out into the state and the biggest thing that, that we see very important to Hancher is connecting people with artists and this year of course is giving us a real opportunity to do that to get out into the community but that's something that we have done and that's something we will continue to do because we believe that the arts are there for everybody."

The arts campus wasn’t the only part of the university affected by the flood. And it really isn’t over. Recovery is a long process.

Still, last August, a record of over 30,000 students started the fall semester at the University of Iowa. And while there may be some unorthodox class rooms, and some unique office arrangements, what counts is that arts teachers are teaching, and students are learning.

... and the fact that they haven’t been forgotten.

Alan MacVey, Director, Division of Performing Arts: "This sounds fairly corny but it's very true that when you get, I've gotten many emails and calls from people around the state, they matter, and I've called other people as well and offered my support. We know we really can't do anything to help them and they can't do anything to directly help us but it’s, a phone call, an email just for support, really does matter."



Tags: disasters floods Iowa Iowa City Iowa-storms-08


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