University of Iowa officials are searching for a new site for Hancher Auditorium, the university’s flood-wrecked performance hall.
U-I president Sally Mason says it’s taken some time to get over the shock from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s declaration that Hancher and the other buildings on the university’s "arts campus" must be rebuilt on higher ground.
"You get over that shock when you think about where those facilities are located — how close to the river they are — and that it’s inevitable in the future that they would flood again and what it would cost to try and protect them from flooding again," Mason says.
"What it would cost not only in terms of dollars in trying to come up with a good mitigation scheme for them, but also in terms of what it might mean with regardsto the views of the river and the things that you appreciated at Hancher and Voxman and Clapp to begin with." Hancher opened in 1972.
It was designed by Max Abramovitz, an internationally-famous architect, and Mason expects the university will seek out another well-known architect to build a new performance hall in Iowa City. Sites in Iowa City that are at least 14 feet above the 2008 Iowa River flood levels are being considered.
"This is a fresh start," Mason says. "This is a real opportunity…to think differently, creatively and hopefully — once and for all — protect these facilities from future flooding and future disasters like the ones we suffered last summer." By bulldozing Hancher, flood plain management may be improved. Mason says she and other university officials are working with a crew of consultants to figure out how the university can live with the river that snakes through the heart of campus.
"Times of the year like this when it’s low and the days are lovely, (the river) is an absolutely beautiful asset to have on campus," Mason says. "But last summer we could see how violent and how almost malicious at times it felt as the water started charging across parts of the campus that they’ve never seen before."
According to Mason, it’s likely Hancher will be the name affixed to a new performance hall. "It would take something very unusual for that name to change," Mason says. Hancher Auditorium is named for Dr. Virgil Hancher, the longest-serving president of the university.
He was the University of Iowa’s president for 24 years — from 1940 to 1964. FEMA has pledged to pay for 90 percent of the costs of rebuilding Hancher elsewhere. There is no timeline for a decision on when and where it should be rebuilt, but Mason hopes construction starts within 24 months.
(Photo from U-I News Service)