Following Flood Scare, Univ. of Iowa Begins Removing Flood Protection

Workers continue to build a HESCO barrier flood wall in front of the Mayflower Residence Hall on the University of Iowa Campus a flood waters begin to rise Thursday, May 30, 2013 in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)


By Aaron Hepker

IOWA CITY, Iowa - More than a month after Iowa City officials closed Dubuque Street in anticipation of flooding along the Iowa River, the University of Iowa has begun the process of removing flood protection across campus.

Rod Lehnertz, director of Planning Design and Construction at the UI, said the decision to remove flood protection came after consistent communication with the Army Corps of Engineers over the water levels on the Iowa River and the Coralville Reservoir. Now that those levels have stabilized, the barriers can come down.

"At the onset of this threat our taglines were to act proactively and to be safe and not sorry with the threats that were being communicated and in taking down the walls we took the same perspective," Lehnertz said. "It's one thing to take them down, but we didn't want to be in a situation where we took them down and had to put them back up again."

University officials have estimated the construction and removal of this year's flood protection measures will cost $5.2 million. That pales in comparison to the costs incurred by the flood of 2008, which are expected to approach $1 billion.

Though the floodwaters didn't reach the level initially predicted this year, Lehnertz said the HESCO barriers still worked to protect Mayflower Residence Hall, which has its electrical system located one story below ground, from damages.

Though the barriers throughout the rest of campus proved to be preventative measures, Lehnertz said this round of flood preparation has served as a valuable learning experience for the UI and surrounding communities.

"As one can imagine we've learned a great deal from 2008 and the protection of this campus in 2013 was very different," Lehnertz said. "I think it was also a great test for us, while we were ready for those higher flood levels that were projected, the fact that they didn't come didn't mean it was a wasted effort, we protected the campus and learned a lot about the process for protecting the camps for a future event."

He said university officials will be evaluating the successful flood preparation process from this year in hopes it will further help them protect campus from future threats.

The 2008 flood damaged 22 buildings and one-sixth of campus space. Though flooding earlier this summer led to the evacuation of four campus buildings and the construction of a seven miles of temporary walls in just three days along the Iowa River on campus, officials said no floodwater entered UI buildings this time around. UI officials expect there will be some concrete and landscaping repairs, which will be determined as the walls are taken down over the next few weeks.

The university took bids for the removal of flood protection measures around campus on Tuesday. The HESCO barriers in front of Mayflower are expected to be removed by the end of July, while the remaining HESCO barriers will be completely removed by Aug. 12 in preparation for when students arrive for the fall semester.

The Art Building was protected as part of a separate, "invisible floodwall" project that was constructed for mitigation after the building was devastated in 2008. The invisible floodwall came down earlier this week and the building, which was evacuated along with three others on campus, has not yet been re-opened.

Lehnertz said Friday that university officials will begin the staging and re-opening of Art Building West over the next few weeks. Mayflower Residence Hall, the Theater Building, and the former Museum of Art will be re-opened as the HESCO barriers are taken down and the areas are determined to be safe, as there will be a lot of activity in the area during that time, Lehnertz said. He expects all buildings to be opened by the beginning of the fall semester on Aug. 26.

As the barriers are removed, Lehnertz said the UI plans to retain some of them in order to test whether they can be re-used, as many of them have likely changed shape during their use. The rest of the barriers will be removed by contractors, who are free to salvage them for the metal.

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