UI Removing Flood Protections

By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette

With Iowa River levels back to normal and favorable weather conditions forecast, the University of Iowa is in full flood-protection de-escalation mode — removing HESCO walls and other barriers in time for students’ return to campus next month.

UI crews and contractors are in the midst of tearing down the massive earth-filled HESCO barriers they erected earlier this month as the Iowa River swelled and threatened to top the emergency spillway at Coralville Lake for only the third time in history. Although those worst-case scenarios never materialized, the Iowa River did breach its banks in Iowa City and engage barriers on the UI campus, including the 12-foot HESCO wall erected outside Mayflower Residence Hall.

This season’s flooding also prompted the university to take protective measures outside its water and power plants, Art Building West, the Iowa Memorial Union, the Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratory, and paths along the Iowa River’s east and west banks.

Workers already have taken down the HESCO wall outside Mayflower, and work on the arts campus will begin next week, according to Rod Lehnertz, UI director of planning and construction.

Carter and Associates, Inc., with a bid of $39,400, removed the Mayflower wall, and Harding Concrete, Inc., with a bid of $53,200, won the contract for flood protection removal on the arts campus.

UI officials have estimated this year’s cost of putting up and taking down flood protection measures, once the work is complete, at around $4 million. But they’re hopeful totals will come in below that figure as the university gets more experienced erecting and tearing down emergency flood barriers.

“We’re becoming experts at this,” Lehnertz said at a recent UI Staff Council meeting.

Lehnertz previously said barriers outside Mayflower had to be down by Aug. 1 to provide enough time to clean the property before students arrive. University officials this week said Mayflower will be ready in time for student move-in, which will start Aug. 20 for most but could come as soon as Aug. 17 for students willing to pay more to move in early.

Although this season’s protection measures are coming down, signs of recent flood activity will remain evident across campus as students start back Aug. 25. Several construction projects resulting from the devastating 2008 flood still are underway, including work at the Iowa Memorial Union, Mayflower Residence Hall, and Hancher Auditorium.

Those long-range mitigation projects will further bolster the campus’ ability to hold down costs and time spent responding to future flood events, according to Lehnertz.

“We’ll be a model for every university in the country that can see water,” he said. “We are the biggest baddest flood around.”

UI President Sally Mason recently told reporters that she continues to be “amazed and pleased” with the campus response to flooding, and she expects it will become even more streamlined and effective in the future.

“All of the flood mitigation projects should be complete by next summer,” Mason said, adding that if the school goes through another devastating flood in the near future, “We will be far better prepared to handle it.”

Mason said an “invisible wall” erected around Art Building West took 48 hours to put up last year and about 18 hours this year. And instead of using seven linear miles of barriers like last year, UI crews this season put up about four linear miles of barriers, Mason said.

“Overall, I couldn’t be more pleased with the ways in which we’ve been able to respond both in terms of speed, in terms of keeping costs down, and in terms of keeping people safe,” she said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3106; vanessa.miller@sourcemedia.net

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