The back-and-forth between federal officials over flood recovery funding for buildings at the University of Iowa in Iowa City appears to be over with a ruling from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Wednesday. Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Divisions administrator, Mark Schouten says FEMA had ruled the flooded music and art buildings should be replaced.
“FEMA’s decision was audited by the Office of Inspector General and the Inspector General ruled that the buildings should be repaired rather than replaced. Now the Undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security has sided with FEMA and said the university may proceed to have the buildings replaced rather than repaired — makes about and 84-million dollar difference,” Schouten explains.
The floods inundated Hancher Auditorium and the School of Music and Art buildings on the U-I campus. The school determined they should be moved to new locations and has been waiting for the final word on funding before going ahead. Schouten says this should end the four-year federal process.
“We think indeed it is the final word, it is the last step in the process of resolving these sorts of disputes between the O-I-G and FEMA — yeah, we think it is indeed the end of the road and the university may proceed,” Schouten says. The ruling for the University of Iowa could also have an impact on another eastern Iowa flood-damaged city.
“We’re happy to get the decisions because we think there is a possibility that the Office Inspector General may raise the same argument in respect to Cedar Rapids projects where buildings were replaced rather than repaired,” according to Schouten. “So, we hope to be able to use this decision as precedent in Cedar Rapids.” The impact of the decision on Cedar Rapids could also be millions of dollars.
“There’s maybe some 38 to 40-million dollars worth of projects in Cedar Rapids where this same rule was applied, and this decision by the Undersecretary of Homeland Security certainly supports what FEMA did both in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids,” Schouten says.
Governor Terry Branstad and Board of Regents President Craig Lang issued statements on the decision. Lang’s statement said:
“We are pleased that the University of Iowa can now move ahead with certainty to replace these damaged buildings. The support of Iowa’s congressional delegation and Governor Branstad has been crucial and we are so thankful for their continued advocacy. Finally, the leadership and persistence at the University of Iowa has enabled students within the arts to achieve their academic goals under adverse circumstances and within temporary facilities. The opportunity to replace these facilities is long overdue.”
University of Iowa President Sally Mason also responded with a statement:
“The students, faculty and staff of the University of Iowa are grateful for the strong and continuous support of our congressional delegation, the Governor, State Legislature and the Board of Regents. This final action on our replacement buildings clears the way for construction – and we are ready. Our students and campus can now move forward with certainty that they will have the facilities they need.”