UI’s 10-year facilities plan calls for historic buildings to be demolished, renovated, bought and sold

Downtown Iowa City, including the University of Iowa Pentacrest and Iowa River, from a plane, June 2018. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

The University of Iowa presented its 10-year facilities master plan to the Board of Regents Wednesday, earning state approval to move forward with a range of renovations across campus. These changes — which are subject to evolve as UI carries out the plans — will affect historic buildings on both sides of the river.

Set for demolition

The 106-year-old Halsey Hall, located on the corner of Jefferson and Madison streets, will be demolished. Originally the women’s gymnasium and named for Elizabeth Halsey, UI’s director of women’s physical education from 1924 to ’55, Halsey Hall has long been the home of the UI Department of Dance and Fitness East.

The dance department will move across the river into the old Museum of Art — of course, the 1969 building, which was rendered unusable by the floods of 2008, is set for a renovation. (The long-anticipated new art museum, the Stanley, is set to open later this year.)

Also slated to be razed is Westlawn, home of Student Health and Student Wellness. The building was erected in 1919 as a new dormitory for nursing students after the UI hospital moved from downtown Iowa City to the west side of the Iowa River. (It was an exception to the UI’s practice at the time of concentrating all women’s dorms on the east side of the river, and all men’s to the west. Co-ed dorms were first offered at the university in the 1970s.)

The 137,000 square-foot Westlawn saw several expansions over its history, and its castle-like countenance can be seen from across the river. Citing high operating costs, UI officials announced plans to level the building in April 2021.

“That’s the kind of stonework today that you don’t normally see,” John Beldon Scott, professor emeritus in the UI School of Art & Art History, said of Westlawn’s intricate Gothic-style engravings in an interview with the Daily Iowan when the plan was announced. “The university is usually sensitive to that sort of thing. It’s when the maintenance of a building becomes expensive, then the university has to make the difficult decision of taking down a building that does have some historical significance.”

The parking ramp adjacent to the Iowa Memorial Union is coming down as well, due to be replaced with an updated ramp.

Revitalization projects

People gather on the Pentacrest before the IFR protest march on Aug. 21, 2020. The Old Capitol Building is on the left, Macbride Hall on the right. — Anjali Huynh/Little Village

Three of the four academic buildings on the UI Pentacrest will be modernized:

MacLean Hall, built in 1912, southwest of the Old Capitol, currently home to the Departments of Mathematics and Computer Science

Jessup Hall, built in 1924, northwest of the Old Capitol. Once home to the departments of Education, Commerce and English, the building now contains administrative offices, including the offices of the university president, vice present and provost.

Macbride Hall, built in 1908, northeast of the Old Capitol, containing the UI Museum of Natural History, a lecture hall and various classrooms. The building once housed the university library.

All administrative offices in Pentacrest buildings will be moved out and into the UI’s original Art Building on Riverside Drive, next door to the old art museum and also heavily damaged in the 2008 floods.

Other buildings set for modernization include the Main Library, Hardin Library for the Health Sciences and Iowa Memorial Union, in addition to two university-owned houses on Clinton Street. The Tippie College of Business will be expanded, the baseball fields improved, and a $9 million women’s gymnastics and spirit squad training center built, in addition to the planned $20 million women’s wrestling facility.

UI’s Cultural Centers — the Afro-American Cultural Center (Afro House), Asian Pacific American Cultural Center (APACC), Latino Native American Cultural Center (LNACC) and Pride Alliance Center (Pride House) — will move from spaces inside the IMU to the adjacent Hubbard Park. The park is currently just green space, save for the historic Danforth Chapel at its northwest corner. It’s unclear if a structure will be built to house the student programs.

Buy and sell

The Old Capitol Mall in its pre-UI office days. — photographer unknown. Photo courtesy of Thomas Dean

The UI campus is notoriously entangled with the broader Iowa City landscape, sharing blocks and even buildings with local businesses. Perhaps the best examples of this coexistence are adjacent to the downtown Ped Mall — the Jefferson Building and Old Capitol Town Center. UI’s new 10-year plan, however, would change untangle them.

The eight-story Jefferson Building on E Washington Street was once considered the nicest hotel in Iowa, boasting steam heat, electric lights, hot and cold water taps and a telephone (hey, it was the 1910s). That hotel closed in 1967; today, the ground floor is occupied by restaurants and retail while the upper floors contain UI offices.

The university plans to sell the Jefferson Building in coming years, relocating the staff offices and freeing up the space to, if the buyer’s right, become a hotel again.

Meanwhile, the University Capitol Centre — also known as the Old Capitol Town Center and Old Capitol Mall — will be purchased and renovated by the university.

Once a thriving and very ’80s shopping mall, complete with a JC Penny’s, Younkers and movie theater, business gradually dwindled, especially after the opening of Coralville’s Coral Ridge Mall in 1998. UI took over many of the empty storefronts, especially after some programs were displaced by the flood of 2008 — the university bookstore, Student Disability Services, Information Technology Services, Study Abroad program, Center for Human Rights and a QuickCare clinic are among the mall’s occupants. The rest of the occupied storefronts are commercial businesses, some new, some decades old. Longtime occupants include chain stores — Blick Art Materials, Buffalo Wild Wings, Chipotle, CVS — and enduring local businesses, such as Sweets and Treats, Glassando, Seoul Grill and Advanced Eyecare.

The mall is a social center for many international students. Asian restaurants and the Asia+ Market in the mall post signage in multiple languages, and the ATMs and CVS self-checkout machines offer Mandarin as a language option.

“I feel a sense of home there,” Jintao He, a UI junior from China’s Jiangsu province told the Gazette in 2017.

The university already owns 62 percent of the mall, according to UI Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz, and may purchase the mall outright in 2024, according to their contract with OC Group LLC.

It’s not yet clear what this transition will mean for the mall’s commercial occupants.

UIHC’s “health care crisis”

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics staff gathered outside on June 5, 2020 in solidarity with racial justice advocates. — UIHC on Facebook

Most of the UI’s facilities plans have an air of pomp and excitement around them. Proposals for the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, however, feel more dire and urgent.

UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran lead the presentation for the Board of Regents Wednesday, discussing some sobering bulletpoints that were summarized in a PowerPoint presentation.

Over the next decade, the State of Iowa and UIHC will face a health care crisis:

1. Without renovation and modernization, over 44% of existing UIHC hospital beds [848] will be obsolete.
2. State of Iowa will need UIHC to grow by over 400 beds to satisfy complex healthcare needs of Iowans.
3. If UIHC runs out of capacity, UIHC’s financial stability will be threatened.

While the Regents approved UIHC’s proposal to build a new, $395 million hospital facility in North Liberty in August 2021, that project is not expected to finish in the next decade. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 surge, Gunasekaran said UIHC would need 80 more beds to accommodate all patients currently in need.

“Just today, in our COVID Emergency Response Team meeting, we were discussing the 45 high-level, high-priority transfers that are awaiting from other Iowa hospitals that we need to get in today,” Gunasekaran said. “We have a plan to get in about 15 of them. And we’re making exceptional efforts to get in about another 15. But that will still leave 15 that will definitely not get in today, and we’ll wait for tomorrow.”

The PowerPoint laid out a path to improvement.

Fortunately, UIHC is well positioned to avoid this health care crisis:

1. Strong financial performance & continued improvements in efficiency will help UIHC fund replacement of obsolete beds and accommodate needed growth.
2. UIHC will continue to partner with rural and community hospitals to keep more care local.
3. UIHC will benefit from improved Federal Medicaid support and apply those funds to increase space and staff capacity for Iowa Medicaid patients.

Expanding telemedicine, achieving “greater efficiency” in care planning, and preparing smaller hospitals to better handle complex care will help mitigate the need for new beds, according to the proposal.

UI Health Care announced plans to build a new tower on the main campus, a new Carver College of Medicine teaching and research building and a new, not-yet-designated clinic last week. Gunasekaran said the projects and 10-year plan should result in a “30 to 40 percent” increase in patient capacity.

This article was updated on Jan. 17 with a more detailed history of Westlawn.

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