Future unclear for ‘offline’ historic buildings at UNI
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) — The Honors Cottage and Alumni House have been “offline” for several months at the University of Northern Iowa and are not being used for anything.
But no concrete plans exist outlining what might be in store for the two century-old buildings, according to Pete Moris, director of university relations.
It’s been a little more than a year since UNI officials proposed the houses be demolished, primarily to be good financial stewards of state resources. They said an estimated $1.6 million in deferred maintenance needed to be completed on the buildings at the time.
The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reports the Board of Regents later tabled the request after Regent David Barker, who now happens to be the chair of the property and facilities committee, questioned whether all of those repairs were “absolutely necessary” and asked the university to take a step back to look at its campus needs.
A basic breakdown of the maintenance, provided last year to The Courier, lists the expenses as being for windows ($57,414), utilities ($56,958), site work ($25,979), roofs ($36,333), plumbing ($151,718), interiors ($268,006), HVAC ($251,608), building envelope ($322,140), electrical ($172,046), elevator ($165,747) and controls ($102,546).
“There hasn’t been any dialogue among senior leadership with regards to those two specific facilities,” Moris said. He also acknowledged the houses “have limited functional space” and “don’t offer as much flexibility as other facilities on campus.”
No timeframe exists for when a decision may be made as the university’s needs are continually being evaluated, he added.
Conversations that had been ongoing with an outside individual about possible preservation efforts are no longer happening, according to Moris. The focus had been the Honors Cottage, the former home of the late UNI president Homer Seerley and his family.
Barker could not be reached for comment, but Josh Lehman, a spokesman for the board, said he was not aware of any recent conversations between the regents or any upcoming business that pertains to the structures.
Since the request to raze, the university has moved a call center and the Honors and Scholars programs, their previous uses, out of the Alumni House along West 23rd Street and Honors Cottage along College Street, respectively.
The sign noting “Honors Cottage” has been removed from out in front of the home, too.
In November, Michael Zwanziger, the university’s assistant vice president and facilities management director, gave a brief update to the regents on the campus master plan, saying, among other things, how one of its goals guiding future projects is to right-size campus, or in other words: “Assess underutilized and obsolete space while continuing to improve overall space utilization.”
He noted academic positioning and enrollment as being some of the drivers, as well as the charge of the institution being to meet the state’s workforce needs.
But the only mention of the Honors Cottage or Alumni House came indirectly when describing a “recent success,” the honors program moving from “an inaccessible location that had a high amount of deferred maintenance” to Bartlett Hall, one of the university’s “renovated century buildings,” because of what it offers in terms of accessibility, space and potential to expand.
Meanwhile, the university has begun the final fundraising push for its $250 million “Our Tomorrow” campaign with a focus on “carefully chosen capital projects that renew and elevate campus facilities that are central to our future.”
But neither home was among the selected facilities.
The buildings are the only ones on campus that are considered “offline” and not serving any type of use for classrooms, offices or residency, according to Moris.
Campbell Hall is the lone comparable structure with its singular purpose right now being as a “quarantine and isolation unit.”
The university has invested heavily in preserving and utilizing other century-old buildings, like the Innovative Teaching and Technology Center. But right now, it is also working to address a “backlog” of deferred maintenance needs across its campus.
Zwanziger and facilities reports have not indicated that the Honors Cottage and Alumni House are part of the future plans, unlike numerous other projects that were included in a five-year “major maintenance capital request” to address the backlog.
The lack of a significant update on the Honors Cottage and Alumni House was met with “maybe no news is good news” by Susan Card, a resident and board member with the nonprofit Preservation Iowa, which brought awareness to the Honors Cottage last year as one of the most endangered properties in the state.
Former state representative Dave Williams, who once was the chairman of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, suggests that progress may be made with some “alumni passion.”
Others, however, are not feeling as optimistic.
“I suspect we’ll drive by them one day and they’ll just be all gone,” said Rosemary Beach, a former historical society director and resident who tried multiple times last year to drum up support in front of the City Council for finding a way to save Seerley’s former home.
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